Wed | Aug 4, 2021

Audrey Hinchcliffe | COVID-19: Impact on working women

Published:Thursday | June 17, 2021 | 12:07 AM

THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic has triggered concerns for health and wellness generally at the workplace, but more specifically, my thoughts have turned to the impact on working women. This has piqued my interest, because the staff of Manpower and Maintenance Services Limited Group (MMS Ltd Group) numbering close to 3,000 comprises approximately 80 per cent women.

Also, frequently being heard are reports on COVID-19-related issues, including mental health among adults and children, which are being exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. We hear of the effects on male and female alike and the resultant violence in different forms, and even the increase in separation and divorce rates. But this cannot be just talking around the topics, we must strive to define what is being talked about, the groups being affected; put the conversations in context as to the effect on the specific groupings and what needs to be done for each by common sense policies and programmes.

This article focuses on the workplace and with a declared bias towards women. This is so because the social side of the MMS Ltd Group, through its newest entity – M’Power Women’s Group – has deemed this issue sufficient to warrant specific treatment, and to invite other businesses and like-minded groups to join together to address workplace health and wellness with bias towards women who bear the brunt of workload at home and now grappling with work life balance, in the face of the work-from-home arrangements.

The coronavirus, and specifically the ongoing incidence of COVID-19 among us, calls for our urgent attention to the subject matter. But first we must define and get a better understanding, if we have not already, of what the conversation should be about, and the attention needed, by way of policies and programmes; coming from sound data, gathered via surveys.

“In understanding the difference between health and wellness, in short, health is a state of well-being, whereas wellness is the state of living a healthy lifestyle. Health refers to physical mental and social well-being. Wellness aims to enhance well-being.” (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).

WORKING WOMEN AND COVID-19

There are certain professions and industries which are dominated by women of which I am a part, hence I am taking licence to draw attention to the matter of working women and COVID-19. Prominent among these professions are healthcare and education, and in the service sector, commercial cleaning. Women in other areas which may be less prominent, but just as important, are agriculture, construction, BPOs and retail trade. Regardless of the grouping, working women face the same challenges. Therefore, the coronavirus impact on working women must of necessity be a priority for attention. That is why I am advocating for an intersectoral survey to be carried out. Such a survey should lead to recommendations which will inform policy positions and programmes. Now months into the pandemic, data has been collected in some jurisdictions, but when I peruse reports with example, titles such as Latin America and the Caribbean, I am unable to identify issues as I know and experience them in Jamaica specifically, and more broadly, throughout the Caribbean Community.

I dare to enquire how many businesses have an occupational health or any other initiative peculiar to women’s health and safety and mechanisms to hear from female workers directly, how the unexpected effects of COVID-19 are impacting on their performance, personal health, and the status of mental health of their families and people in their communities. Those involved with work from home, I am sure, will have their own stories. I have mine and it is a mixed bag. The pitfalls need to be identified, voices heard, and steps taken to address the issues. Support may exist, but could it be spotty at best? A survey may highlight this as an area requiring attention. The stresses brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant mental health conditions so often heard of, subtly and in some cases overtly, require urgent and immediate attention.

MENTAL HEALTH

The mental health of which we speak means a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being. Simply, it is about how people think, feel, and behave. It is not just about a mental disorder, it is about what persons are experiencing in their daily lives, in relationships, in addition to their physical health. The workplace is no less so for issues to surface in performance, attendance, and socialising.

We are hearing of reports being echoed particularly in the context of the impact of COVID-19 on both adults and children, and of course, the referred issues at the workplace and among family members. In this regard, Jamaica has declared a COVID-19 Mental Health Response Programme which speaks to help for vulnerable communities such as the elderly, and programmes for children and youth with psychosocial challenges. This is the background against which the workplace must carve out its position on working women’s health and wellness and including mental health.

COVID-19 has laid down the marker for determining the issues of working women and for addressing them accordingly. Solutions are possible but the workplace must believe that this is a matter worthy of pursuit.

M.A. Hinchcliffe is CEO and Founder, Manpower and Maintenance Services Ltd Group. Email: columns@gleanerjm.com, ceo@manpowerja.com