Women shouldering unpaid care burden amid coronavirus crisis – Oxfam survey

Emergencies, Media Releases, Women article written on the 18 Jun 2020

Forty-three percent of women interviewed in a five-country survey reported feeling more anxious, depressed, isolated, overworked or ill because they are having to shoulder even more unpaid care work as a result of the coronavirus crisis, Oxfam said today.

The poll shows that while men have also taken on more care work during the pandemic, the workload continues to fall disproportionately on women – particularly women from ethnic and racial minorities, those living in poverty and women in communities without access to basic infrastructure and services.

A total of 6,385 women and men were interviewed several weeks into the pandemic, with national polls conducted in the United State, United Kingdom and Canada, together with surveys in poor urban communities in the Philippines and informal settlements in Kenya.

The results also showed:

  • More than half of the women surveyed reported spending more hours on tasks such as cooking, washing, cleaning, and caring for children and family members since the pandemic began.
  • Over half of the men interviewed also said their unpaid care workload had increased, but the polls revealed men and women have very different views of how fairly care work is shared. For example, in the US, two-thirds (66%) of men report that they are cooking and cleaning as much as or more than women are, but only one-third (35%) of women agree.
  • Before the pandemic women were already doing 5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day, three times more than men.
  • 26 percent of women surveyed in Nairobi’s informal settlements said they have been physically unwell, unable to get enough rest, or were feeling stressed and anxious because of increased care responsibilities.
  • In Britain, 33 percent of women reported higher levels of stress and anxiety due to increased care workload– rising to 43 percent for female essential workers.

Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Lyn Morgain said the surveys showed that women living in poverty or from marginalised communities, who had less access to public healthcare and services such as water and electricity, reported the biggest increase in unpaid care work.

“The reality is the coronavirus crisis is making existing inequalities much worse,” Ms Morgain said. “For example, 42 percent of women surveyed in Nairobi’s informal settlements said they were unable to do their usual paid work because of increased care commitments.”

Ms Morgain said even before the coronavirus pandemic, Australian women shouldered the vast bulk of unpaid care work – women spend 64.4 percent of their average working hours each week on unpaid work, compared to 36.1 percent for men. Research suggested that like women across the globe, this entrenched inequality for carers in Australia – the vast majority of them women – had been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis.

“Economies and societies around the world would not function without the unpaid care provided mainly by women, yet governments continue to ignore or undervalue this critical work,” Ms Morgain said.

“Governments around the world need to recognise and value unpaid care through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies, and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family.

“In Australia, the recent announcement that free childcare provided in Australia during the pandemic would end next month and families would have to revert to the old, broken subsidy system is a step in entirely the wrong direction.

“This is an opportunity to shift the dial on the unequal distribution of caring responsibilities in Australia. The Government has a critical role to play and should start by increasing its investment in early childhood education and ensuring a better system for the realities families are facing in the post-COVID world.”

You can donate to Oxfam’s Coronavirus Emergency Appeal, which is supporting women’s networks and rights organisations around the world to link vulnerable women to support services.

For interviews, please contact Dylan Quinnell on 0450 668 350 or at dylanq@oxfam.org.au