There’s been immense social and economic upheaval since the global pandemic first began, and although it’s nice to think that we’re, ‘All in this together,’ there’s no escaping the fact that people – and genders – have been impacted differently.
For women, COVID-19 has thrown another curve ball into the work-life-balance juggling act, and a collection of essays called Work.Love.Body. is shining a light on Australian women’s experiences and asking important questions about the kind of future we all want for our mums, daughters, sisters and selves.
To learn more about the Australian experience and see how we can forge a gender equal future closer to home, we spoke with Jamila Rizvi, Co-editor of Work.Love.Body.
Thanks for your time, Jamila. What are the key questions that underpin Work.Love.Body.?
Through the lenses of work, love, and body, this collection of essays asks: Will the Australia of tomorrow be more equal than the one we were born into? Or will it be a country where women and girls remain left behind?
The pandemic has changed all our lives dramatically, but it has had a particular impact on women. In the depths of lockdowns, women held the health of our communities in their hands as they took on the essential jobs to care, to nurse and to teach, despite an invisible danger.
For all the talk of equality, it was primarily women who juggled the intense demands of work, kids, schooling and care of ageing parents. We were told to stay home and to keep each other safe. But one year later, Australian women would march on behalf of those who were not safe in their own homes.
Never before has change been thrust so abruptly on modern women. 2020 and 2021 have impacted our working lives, relationships, and our health and wellbeing.
The purpose of this collection of essays is to ask what comes next, and how can we support women to achieve equality, in the aftermath of this pandemic?
Although child care is done with love, it also takes time and energy. How can the child care load be better shared between partners and with other care-givers?
So-called ‘women’s work’ has always been undervalued and child care is no exception. Whether child care is paid or unpaid, we assume that because spending time with children is pleasurable, it should be done for love, not money. This is rubbish. While, of course, parents and carers love the children they spend time with, this should not detract from the fact that child care is a form of labour.
Lockdowns have resulted in a boost to men’s unpaid labour in the home, including child care. This is a good and important thing. However, the boost in women’s unpaid labour is considerably higher, and begins from a higher base. Women are carrying the lion’s share of unpaid child care, and the burden has swelled over the past 20 months.
The way each family arranges their time is up to them. However, it is important that couples can have candid, contemporary and open-minded conversations around gender roles and expectations.
We should ask ourselves, as parents: How much of what we do is because we made a deliberate choice, and how much is because we sort of ‘fell into it’?
At a broader level, we need to push for a modernisation of community attitudes and expectations about child care. We have to recognise it as critical, skilled work that should be valued. We have to push back against the incorrect assumptions that women are, ‘Just better at this stuff.’ We have to pay our early childhood educators fairly and appropriately.
It’s really important for us mums to take time out for ourselves. What are some practical ways that women can nourish our bodies and minds, and find time to reset?
Try not to put too much pressure on yourself, even when it comes to self-care. Focus on the basics. Get some sleep where and when you can. On those rare occasions when babies and kids are asleep, but you can’t fall asleep, don’t panic. Take some time to lie in bed, screen-free and just rest, even if sleep doesn’t come to you.
Focus on fueling your body with the nourishing food it needs. You can’t run a family on an empty tank, so don’t deprive yourself of the energy you require to get through the day. Drink water! This is a, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ piece of advice. Being well-hydrated is critical and easy to forget.
That’s the basics. Any other moments you can grab for yourself to prioritise you and your needs are a damn well-deserved bonus. Make time for them – and for you!
Aside from sharing the child care load, how can we all work towards a more gender equal world, and what is your ideal vision for the future?
If there are child care arrangements in your home that are, ‘The way we’ve always done it’, reassess. Ask yourself why you do it that way: Is it a strategic, deliberate decision? Is it a sensible, productive choice? Or have you inadvertently fallen into the gender roles that others have followed for hundreds of years?
Critically, if you’re a mum in a two-parent household who is considering returning to work and weighing up the cost of child care against your potential salary – don’t. Child care is the cost of both parents working. It’s not a cost of you returning to work, it’s the cost of anyone working at all.
We have to shift the way we think about gender and work, and roles and responsibilities, and unpack and unpick all the underlying biases that exist.
It takes conscious effort to bring about positive change, and we all need to stay focused on a gender equal future.