The Plight of Working Mothers in a Covid-19 Era

Globally, there is an increasing number of women in the workforce with a significant number of mothers. Raising a child while working a job, whether full time or part-time, is not an easy task. In more advanced countries in Northern Europe, there are robust public interventions that are aimed at cushioning the burden on working parents. In Sweden for instance, new mothers enjoy benefits such as additional tax credits to meet the cost of childcare, subsidized daycare facilities and extended months of paid leave after childbirth (for 16 months). Similarly, countries like Norway, Denmark and France have generous family-work policies that allow parents to remain employed while also meeting the demands of family life. However, in less developed countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire and Togo, among other West African countries, governments lack the financial capacity to implement such ambitious policies as a result of large informal sectors that do not contribute much in tax revenue to the economy (among other factors).

Since the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating impacts on global health systems and financial economies. This has forced businesses to review their structures/models and policies to ensure the safety and protection of their employees while safeguarding economic continuity. According to the International Labor Organization (2020), apart from the massive impact on the health of workers and their families, the economic shock that would result from the global pandemic would inadvertently impact the quantity and quality of jobs, and would expose vulnerable groups to adverse labor market outcomes.

In the wake of this global crisis, some governments are adopting measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the fast-changing nature of work for their citizens without compromising economic continuity in their countries. In Japan, Italy and Finland for instance, governments have provided funds and other forms of support for businesses to encourage employees to work remotely while complying with safe social distancing protocols. The Chinese government has similarly developed work from home protocols, flexible working hours for employees and paid leaves for employees recovering from COVID-19. Countries like Ireland, Singapore and South Korea have taken a step further to provide sick- pay leave options to self-employed workers.

There are in fact a pool of closely related public interventions and policy recommendations that circle back in conversations about safeguarding working populations. While these policies are well intended, the extent of effectiveness of workplace policies during COVID-19 is still very questionable. A blatant weakness of these public interventions is the neglect of the needs of one of the most vulnerable groups of the working population – working mothers. In West Africa for instance, the majority of self-employed informal sector workers are women, a significant proportion of which are mothers. What systems and social structures are being put in place to protect and assist self-employed working mothers who have lost income as a result of the impact of Covid-19? In this period of temporary (or indefinite?) school closure, how are working mothers being supported to balance the nuances of providing quality child care with maintaining work-life? Due to the global health crisis, working mothers presently have a more prominent role in the family as the primary caregivers.  Hence, the urgent need to provide social and economic support for working mothers which have long been sidelined is apparent now more than ever. 

Additionally, there are few to no policies that take unskilled workers into consideration. There are many women in several African countries who hawk items and are currently on the streets trying to make a living for themselves and their families. Mothers who hawk and sell petty items may not be able to afford help to cater for their children while they go out to sell and might be compelled to take their children along with them to the streets. What are African governments doing to ensure that such women and their children are catered for during this period? The government of Ghana for instance, has rolled out a soft loan scheme of up to a total of GHC 600 million to support Small and Medium Scale Businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19. While this is a commendable initiative, what structures have been put in place to ensure that working mothers within this category benefit from the stimulus package? How about mothers outside this working group, how are they surviving in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting economic changes? It is a shame that policies have not reflected measures that would protect the livelihood and wellbeing of such mothers. 

The apparent marginalization of women in the formulation of workplace policies is quite disturbing given that most family systems in the world are patriarchal and women perform most of the roles in the home especially with regards to raising and caring for children. This obviously increases the work burden on working women and creates a unique need that must be addressed by companies and governments. Why then, are women, particularly working mothers, constantly sidelined in the formulation of workplace policies? Why are companies and organizations constantly overlooking the crucial challenges that are unique to working mothers, and refusing to adopt comprehensive workplace measures that would effectively help working mothers to navigate the challenges of combining work and family life? 

What do you think policy makers, governments and companies can or should do about these issues? Kindly share your opinions and thoughts with us in the comment section below. In the end, these issues concern us all whether we are working mothers or not because everyone has a mother!!!

Researched by: CSMR Africa and COAWM
Analysed and Written by: CSMR Africa for COAWM

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