Females outshine men in COVID response, IDB study reveals
As the country’s economy tightens under the crunch of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, women continue to shoulder much of the growing burdens of Jamaican households, despite being stricken hardest by the disease.
Up to yesterday, 4,494 females had been infected by the sickness compared to males who accounted for 3,683 cases across the island. Females have also endured increased domestic violence in lockdowns with abusive spouses, and have endured the most job losses since March.
Yet, a recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) suggests that females, particularly those in rural areas, have been holding the fort, outmanning their male counterparts in chores and evolving parental duties since COVID-19 hit.
The news is bliss for females who were celebrated by the United Nations on International Day of Rural Women on Thursday, but also a testament to the resolve of chicken farmer Juliet Barrett, a resident of Logwood, a tough rural community in St Thomas.
Barrett wakes at 6:00 each morning to begin her farm duties. When school was ‘face to face’, getting her son and grandson, ages 12 and 11, respectively, ready to send off to Harvest Hill Preparatory would be a breeze. Now, however, she has to execute her farming duties, while tending to customers and playing teacher and disciplinarian on the side.
“I have to stop for about an hour or two to make breakfast for them, and then I have to go back in on intervals to ensure they are doing the right thing and stick with them, explaining to them,” she noted. “You can imagine I have to pay the school fee and then the teachers just send the work and I have to do the explaining. It’s hard.”
She continued, “My son is inside there now and I have to be checking on him because he is preparing for PEP [Primary Exit Profile] and if I don’t do that, it’s just pure talking. I know we can’t do face to face but this online thing is very hard.”
Barrett believes the teachers are not connecting effectively with her boys online, and while many teachers interviewed this month agreed, those like Lisa Bailey, vice-principal at Mountain View Primary School in Kingston, called for understanding, as many female teachers were also parents and enduring similar challenges at home.
NOT PREPARED FOR COVID-19
According to the IDB study that canvassed 2,596 Jamaicans online over two weeks:
• 72.0 per cent of women reported being responsible for coordinating or assisting children with homeschooling
• 67.8 per cent handled cleaning duties
• 59.7 per cent had cooking duties
• 61.8 per cent were caring for adults
Many of female household heads were not prepared for the ravages of COVID-19, the study suggested.
According to the report, “Household preparedness varied by pre-pandemic income level ... households that reported higher total household incomes in January 2020 were better prepared to cover immediate expenses during the pandemic. Only 14.5 per cent of low-income households reported having enough savings for an emergency expense, and only 29.1 per cent had enough savings to cover one week or more of basic expenses.”
INVEST IN RURAL WOMEN
Last week’s International Day of Rural Women was dubbed ‘Building Rural Women’s Resilience in the Wake of COVID-19’. UN Secretary General António Guterres emphasised the importance of women to agriculture, food security, and nutrition, despite the harsh systematic racism, and structural poverty that has come with their territory.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has now affected more than half the world’s women farmers with restrictions on movement, the closure of shops and markets, and disruption to their supply chains. Combined with challenges, including increased unpaid care and domestic work and rising rates of gender-based violence, rural women are bearing some of the heaviest burdens of the pandemic,” Guterres said.
“Together, we must invest in rural women so that they have access to healthcare, social protection, and agricultural information services they need. We must close the digital divide and provide essential services to respond to the shadow pandemic of violence against women. And we must tackle the discriminatory land and inheritance laws and practices that make rural women vulnerable to losing their sources of income.”