Celebrating Mothers
May 4, 2021
Give mom some flowers associated with Mother’s Day
May 4, 2021

Gendered impact of COVID-19

By Dr Marlene Attzs, Economist
Email: marlene.attzs@gmail.com

Just over a year after the first case of the coronavirus was reported in Trinidad and Tobago, our social and economic landscape continues to be shaped by the national, regional, and global response to the pandemic.

While the scientists have given global recovery a shot in the arm with the availability of different vaccines, we in the developing world and particularly in the Caribbean, seem to be in for some bitter medicine.

While each Caribbean country must manage its own COVID-19 fallout, there are some common threads woven into our ‘Caribbeaness’.

Unemployment will continue to rise in our region— youth unemployment will be of particular concern—debt will continue to rise as our governments try to provide social support cushions to the most vulnerable among us.

The debt also will increase as governments continue to support health sectors that have been straining for more than a year, under the unyielding demand that COVID-19 has imposed—surges in the number of cases, health sector workers working beyond the call of duty, COVID-19 patients to be cared for and within recent weeks, vaccinations to be administered, even where vaccine hesitancy is prevalent.

Then there are the lockdowns, even curfews imposed in some Caribbean countries, to manage the spread of the virus. These all have implications that are manifold in the short, medium, and long run.

In the midst of all this, my column is being written as we contemplate Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in June. The pandemic continues to have many indirect impacts, including revealing that inequalities abound in our society. There also is the impact that the pandemic is having both on men and women.

Globally, research suggests that the pandemic has had greater negative impact on women than on men. Nationally, we know that women, especially those with young children, have had to balance several jobs —domestic duties, being primary caregivers, homeschooling and, in some cases, their regular jobs which have taken on different modalities over the past 12–14 months.

In some cases, mothers have had to either reduce their work hours or even stop work to give attention to their other roles. For many women stopping work is not a viable option.

I recently witnessed a female merchandiser in a supermarket restocking shelves while on her mobile phone doing spelling homework with her child— the word of choice was S E P A R A T E.

Then there are the fathers, some of whom have lost their jobs and their role as family breadwinner is compromised. The cost of that impact on their psyche is not easily quantifiable.

For parents, the struggle is real—work to pay for rent, work to pay for the internet that allows for the homeschooling, work to pay for the mobile phone to ensure you keep connected with the child, work to ensure you can feed the ravenous appetite of the child who, while at home, is constantly obsessed with food.

The latest lockdown measures have resulted in bars, restaurants, spas, and hairdressing salons being closed. Women make up the majority of employees in these establishments.

The closure of childcare centres also has had significant knock-on impacts—in households where both parents are present, those impacts can be shared. However, for many single-headed households, that may not have the benefit of an extended family, the mothers or fathers must juggle all the responsibilities.

In 2020, there was financial relief from the government for persons who may have become unemployed because of lockdown measures.  The likelihood of that relief being available in 2021 seems dim—the national coffers are under tremendous strain.

As the nation battens down in these new lockdown measures, spare a thought for the mothers and fathers who, because of COVID-19, have learnt to teach, cook, do school projects, navigate computers, and comb hair while maintaining jobs, paying bills, budgeting better—all in an effort to keep their families safe and healthy.

We owe you all a debt of gratitude.

That’s just my point of view.