Social distancing increases women’s burden

The household chores accumulation brings emotional and economic consequences

by Ediane Tiago

“Although we share household chores, I feel overwhelmed by the emotional burden of attending the children.” The testimony, written by one of the 2,641 women interviewed for a survey conducted by Gênero e Número and SOF (Sempreviva Feminist Organization), reflects many Brazilian women’s reality since the new coronavirus spread across the globe. The results, consolidated in the report “Without Stop: the work and life of women in the pandemic,” reveal how the health crisis and social distancing measures have accentuated gender inequality in family care and the division of domestic tasks.

The data show that 50% of Brazilian women started to take care of someone since governments announced the first measures. In rural areas, the index was even higher, reaching 62%. According to the research, there is no possibility of discussing the post-pandemic world without considering how much Covid-19 highlighted the care crisis – a dimension of life that requires mature discussion about the division of tasks and the value of household chores for society.

The EconomistAs Podcast recently addressed the theme of care in an interview with Luiza Nassif, a researcher at the Gender Equality and Economics program and a professor at the graduate programs and economic theory and public policy at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, in the United States (listen to the episode by clicking here). Luiza researches the care economy, a field that studies the activities involved in survival and reproduction. Most of these tasks are centered on the home – such as cleaning, taking care of the children and elderly, cooking, and do the laundry. “In general, women carry out these unpaid chores,” she says.

With the pandemic spreading – points out the survey carried out by Gênero e Número and SOF – the double shift became heavier. In the total sample, 41% of the women who were still employed (with the maintenance of their wages) said they worked more in quarantine. They claim that remote activities extended working hours. “Furthermore, the relationship between work and domestic tasks became even more intertwined. The pandemic showed the intensification of women’s work. They work harder because the division of the task is unequal”, says the research report.

Another relevant fact is the percentage of women who indicated an increase in the need for monitoring and company (72%). In other words, almost ¾ of the women responsible for caring for children, the elderly, or people with disabilities stated that they need to be more attentive to movement or spend more time with their families. The information clarifies that the home office routine is a challenge for those who take care of their own.

The study’s statements align with the information released by IBGE – The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. According to data from the study Gender Statistics: Women’s Social Indicators in Brazil, women dedicate, on average, 21.4 hours a week to household chores. While men devote 11 hours, this imbalance, say IBGE researchers, explains the lower participation of women in the labor market and their greater involvement in unpaid activities.

The double shift penalizes women. “Mothers report salary losses, occupational segregation, and difficulties in progressing in their careers,” warns Luiza. The IBGE study confirms these losses. According to the research, the presence of children up to three years old in the households is related to the lower occupational insertion of women. The level of employment, the proportion of persons employed in the working-age population, is lower among women aged 25 to 49 who live in homes with children in this age group. Among them, the occupation level is 54.6%, while those living in houses with no such presence are 67.2%. The situation is even more critical for black and brown mothers. According to IBGE, less than half (49.75%) were working when the researchers collected the data.

Data from PNAD Continua also reveal the challenges faced by women in balancing their professional and domestic lives. In the third quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate in Brazil reached 14.6%. Among women, the index reaches 16.8% and, among men, 12.8%.

Greater exposure to violence

With the extension of the quarantine, the perception of violence also increased among women. According to data collected by the survey by Gender and Number and SOF, 91% of women believe that domestic violence increased or intensified during the period of social distancing.

When asked about their personal experiences, 8.4% said they had suffered some form of violence in the period — the percentage increases among women in the lower-income brackets. Among women with a family income of up to the minimum wage, 12% claim to have suffered violence.

For Luiza, when a woman has an income, she is less susceptible to domestic violence. “In addition to having bargaining power within the home, this woman is more likely to abandon her partner,” she says. Financial dependence is a factor that can generate a higher incidence of violence against women. “In this sense, giving economic value to care is essential to protect women, offering them conditions of livelihood and choice,” she defends.