COVID-19’s effect on families: a woman’s perspective | Julie Zahra

As we move forward into a post-pandemic world, this shared experience can provide an opportunity and a wake-up call for us all

Julie Zahra is an educator and a PN candidate

In some way or another, the pandemic has affected us all. Many of the measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 in our communities have had a negative impact on men, women and children around the world. Despite the various measures intended to sustain and support businesses and families in need, such measures need to clearly continue until they are gradually phased out as global economy recuperates once again.

But the challenge remains. Have the measures been enough? And despite these measures, have we focused on the real issues – the wellbeing of people? Have we invested enough in the social and mental well-being of citizens? Looking ahead, how can we secure a better quality of life and a harmonious future?

Women and their families have been particularly affected during these unprecedented times, and mental health became a very important issue. Quarantine and partial lockdowns involving the cancellation of sports and cultural events, the closure of shops and restaurants, the shutdown of schools and universities, and homeschooling, not to mention the financial strain placed on those who have lost their job, have put a terrific strain on both parents’ and children’s wellbeing. The psychological and mental stress placed on parents who have been trying to balance their personal life, work and raising children, all at the same time has been immense. It is therefore vital for policy-makers to consider the implications of the pandemic on families’ mental health.

Research is critical in this regard. In several studies around the world, increased distress and anxiety have been common factors among parents, and which factors could have also compromised their ability to be supportive caregivers. Many parents or single parents who have lost their jobs, suffering a forced reduction of their income have witnessed a severe impact on their family life which forced them to opt for parents’ benefits.

As the pandemic recedes and we begin to look towards a post-pandemic society, we need to find tangible and concrete ways to restore our mental health. And that time is now! If we really intent to have a healthier society and a healthier future, the wellbeing of parents and children must be put at the top of our agendas.

It is an undenied reality, that women have been the ones taking on the most responsibilities during the pandemic. Since women act as the primary care givers in most households, they have been the ones that had to take charge of their children’s online learning whilst working from home or had to plan other arrangements for their children if they still had to go to work. Although men’s participation in the household and childcare has increased, the major burden has still, and will still continue to fall on women. More women than men have had to give up their jobs owing to their caring responsibilities or ended up working longer hours to keep up with their standard of living. All of this has put even greater strain on their work life balance and created even more pressure on them as they struggled through longer days at home with their children, whilst trying to maintain their own well-being.

Single mothers were faced with even bigger challenges. In times when social interaction with family, friends and community was needed the most, they have had to do it all by themselves, having to make all the relevant decisions entirely on their own, and which inevitably led to difficulties in managing the daily routine for their families. Over these many months of the pandemic this has become unbelievably stressful. All such circumstances have made women more vulnerable with an increase of anxiety and depression.

A study carried out by the Consultative Council for Women’s Rights in June 2020 and which was gladly shared with me by Dr JosAnn Cutajar, also highlights the burden that the pandemic has placed upon all mothers. Reflecting on the findings, they suggest that the mother’s invisible contribution during the pandemic has to somehow be rewarded in some way. As a matter of fact, the pandemic has created more gender inequality, with many women ending up working far more than their counterparts.

Where do we go from here? Should we try to emulate Spain? Spain is one of the first European countries to try helping working mothers reconcile employment with family commitments. The Spanish approach would be a step towards promoting a healthier work-life balance for women who are in the workforce or getting back in the working world whilst caring for their children.

On the positive side, the pandemic has really shaken us to our cores. As we move forward into a post-pandemic world, this shared experience can provide an opportunity and a wake-up call for us all. This is an unparalleled opportunity to re-examine the way things have been done for the past several years. Recognising and easing the pressures and burdens on women and families is an important first step to a more compassionate and caring society for everyone.