Wed | Aug 4, 2021

The family that pivots together, stays together

Published:Sunday | May 30, 2021 | 12:10 AM

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a profound shock to the Jamaican society and economy. There is no question that while health workers have been on the front lines responding to the pandemic, families are managing the repercussions on the home front.

While everyone is facing unprecedented challenges, the crisis has laid bare and exacerbated the growing digital divide within, between and across socio-economic groups, particularly in terms of the availability, affordability and use of information and communications technology (ICT) and access to the Internet, deepening existing inequalities. This year’s observance of International Day of Families focused on Families and New Technology. This commemorative day provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase the knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families.

The Progress of the World’s Women 2019-2020 Report states that while some families have been able to grow closer and stronger, many families are being strained by the unequal distribution of unpaid care and domestic work with women spending three times as many hours as men, prior to the pandemic.

According to the Inter-American Development Bank Online Socio-economic Survey (2020), in Jamaica twice as many women than men spent time homeschooling children as a result of the pandemic, and almost twice as many women than men experienced increases in entertaining children, cooking and cleaning. Others are struggling with violence with emerging data showing an increase in calls to domestic violence helplines globally since the outbreak of COVID-19. Limited data available for our regional neighbours points to a striking 119 per cent spike in calls to domestic violence hotlines in one Caribbean country between January and October 2020

According to the results in the UN Women Rapid Gender Assessments on the Impacts of COVID-19, before the pandemic, the average time spent on childcare globally was approximately 26 hours per week for women, and 20 hours per week for men. Since the pandemic, on average, women have added an extra 5.2 hours on average per week for childcare, compared to 3.5 extra hours for men, with the gender gap varying widely across countries. This means women are spending 30-plus hours per week solely on childcare – almost equivalent to the average time spent at a full-time job per week.

DEMONSTRATED RESILIENCE

In the face of the economic and social shocks, families today have demonstrated their resilience and their capacity to thrive even during adversity.

• For single-parent households, the lockdown measures have introduced a new degree to multitasking with added responsibility of monitoring remote learning, working and the domestic work burden.

• For those dependent on the industries feeling the brunt of the pandemic, such as the 61 per cent of women who lost jobs in the Arts, Entertainment, Recreation and Other Services, according to the Summary Report – Status of Women and Men Report: Productive Employment and Decent Work for All, the pandemic has demonstrated the resilience of Jamaicans to “tun dem hand and mek fashion” by selling their craft products on e-commerce platforms such as Etsy and Amazon in order to provide for the family.

The prolonged pandemic demonstrated the importance of digital technologies for work, education and communication. The pandemic has also accelerated technological changes that had already been under way both in society and at work, including the expanded use of digital platforms and related technological innovations. While digital labour platforms provide working-aged adults with income-generating opportunities and benefits from flexible work arrangements, they also present some challenges.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also had considerable impact on the prevalence of violence against women and children within families. Fear around the pandemic, job losses, high levels of stress, limitations in movement that disrupt access to protective networks and reduced access to support services all increase the vulnerability of women and children and make them more susceptible to violence.

The disruption of livelihoods and reduction in income has increased stress on families which in some instances has resulted in conflicts and even violence. A reduction in income for women can put them at a greater risk of experiencing financial abuse, with partners withholding necessary resources as a means of punishing or controlling them.

The Spotlight Initiative in Jamaica – a global European Union and United Nations initiative to end all forms of violence against women and girls – will continue to engage all relevant stakeholders as advocates and key actors to eradicate family violence.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also intensified the burden of care for families. Parents have been managing the care and education of children while juggling the new demands of working from home and concerns for older relatives. According to the World Employment and Social Outlook 2021 report published by the International Labour Organization (ILO), families need to understand the importance of digital technologies in advancing parental education and the impact of the physical and mental health of all family members.

“Now, more than ever, parents and caregivers, especially those engaged in full-time employment, need resources to successfully manage their parenting obligations,” stated the ILO report.

IMPACT NOT GENDER NEUTRAL

The impacts of crises are never gender-neutral, and COVID-19 is no exception. Women are at the heart of care and response efforts under way. Women continue to bear the brunt of the economic and social fallout of COVID-19.

Tonni Brodber, representative at UN Women Multi-country Office – Caribbean, explained at the Measuring Unpaid Domestic Work seminar held earlier this year that unpaid care work must be counted.

Care work is crucial to our societies and to the economy. It includes looking after children, elderly people, and those with physical and mental illnesses and disabilities, as well as daily domestic work like cooking, cleaning, washing, mending, and fetching water and firewood in some communities still in the Caribbean. Without someone investing time, effort and resources in these essential daily tasks, communities, workplaces, and whole economies would grind to a halt.

As individuals and institutions worldwide are pursuing work-family balance, and technology plays a fundamental role in this pursuit, emphasis should be placed on fostering Innovation and improving flexible working arrangements to advance family well-being.

‘’Encouraging flexible work arrangements for both women and men allows for children to benefit from increased quality time with their parents. Flexible working arrangements allow women and men to deliver on their professional responsibilities, while also managing their care responsibilities at home; it is a critical enabling factor to women and men sharing the care,” Ms Brodber said.

Families generally offer a source of care and support that are critical to the well-being of individuals and communities. Families are often held together by women and men doing the best they can with the tools they have to create safe and enabling environments for all members of the family to thrive. All families should have access to the tools that enhance their capacities to do so, like ICT, sharing care and healthy conflict resolution tools as means to prevent violence, and make the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals a reality for women and girls by accelerating equal participation in all aspects of life.

Article courtesy UN Women Multi Country Office – Caribbean (UN Women). Follow them on Twitter at @UNWomenCarib and Facebook and Instagram @UNWomenCaribbean. Send feedback to info.brb@unwomen.org or columns@gleanerjm.com.