Women’s Day 2022

BY ABUBACAR JABBIE

On this women’s day I’d like to reflect on the impact that the current economic situation has on women. The recent pandemic had a particularly negative impact on an already negatively affected population. The impacts of crises are never gender-neutral, and Covid was no exception. Crises hit women harder because they generally tend to earn less, have fewer savings, are disproportionately less represented in the formal economy and are more likely to be burdened with more informal and domestic work and are often more likely to lose their employment because of this. Women also make up the majority of single households. Because women are already more socioeconomically marginalized by the gender pay-gap, they suffered more job losses in the crisis. Stress over livelihood, loss of income and quarantine, correlates with this burden and they were at a higher risk of GBV.

We are in the thick of a “SHE-CESSION”. The unique aspects of the current recession are in the way it is impacting women. Though statistically, men were more likely to die due to Covid, the pandemics toll on employment was heavier on women unlike other emergencies. The pandemic had more job losses among women than men. The current She-Cessionheavily affected sectors like hospitality, domestic work, cleaning services, tourism, the informal economy and agriculture.

The Covid induced poverty surge widened the already existing gender poverty-gap as it was not only about layoffs but also about the types of employment held by women and children.  When the lockdown happened and the world of work changed, the shift was felt more by women than men. When the industries shut down, looking at firms in Lesotho, over 95% of the affected work force were women. These firms had down-stream industries that relied on them; the first was the informal economy within such industries such as agriculture and food. The plated food kiosks were the first to cease to exist as once the firms closed, the areas were left deserted and immediately two classes of poverty were created. Household needs still needed to be met, but with a population that got daily, weekly and fortnightly income, most times with very little or no savings, hunger was almost instant. A year after the pandemic ended, such effects are still felt today and many small informal businesses remain closed today and some still struggle to restart.

In the other sectors such as cleaning services, tourism and domestic employment, again, the majority are women. When offices, hotels, guesthouses and lodges were closed, the first affected were the cleaning services, housekeeping and catering. Already on minimal pay with little savings, these women again were on the front-line of poverty when the economy shut down. Add on this the demands of being a mother, wife, homemaker, educator,  home-carer, community builder and an individual person who has her own wants, needs and dreams, the stress can be too much to bear, and unfortunately, not ever acknowledged enough.

The professional working woman also faced her challenges. Notwithstanding the working from home scenario and its own challenges (a topic I covered extensively in previous articles) she also had to multi-task at being a mother, wife, homemaker, educator, home carer, community builder and an individual who has her own wants, needs and dreams. (As you can see, classism is never a factor. All women have similar dreams) She might be in the fortunate position to still keep her employment and has some savings, so the economic impact might not be as immediate or severe as in other sectors, but the social, medical and environmental and family impact isn’t too different.

We have to admit that in the corporate world, the prevailing culture has forced women to “show-up” more than men to have their voice heard and competence appreciated. There is a clear distinction between women and men leadership styles. It has been proven that countries led by women handled the pandemic much better that men-led countries. This will be a discussion in a related article later down the line on this series. This is an on going discussion, that is why your feedback on these articles is valued. You create the narrative.

Professional, corporate or business owning working mothers, having full working hours, with the extra pressure of fully being at work, but at home, depending on the children’s age, have a higher responsibility on women. Functional marriages should have a fair 50\50 split of house chores and home schooling between partners. But we know and can acknowledge, we don’t always have functional families, marriages and homes. This extra dysfunction adds more pressure on women working from home with little or no spousal support. These issues are more pronounced in single-parent headed households.

As society, I think it is important for us to recognize these challenges and complexities in our relationships in order to appreciate the impact that this pandemic has had on all our lives. In us being mindful of these different dimensions of lockdowns and realizing that it just was not only a medical issue but also a socioeconomic matter, we may ease, or at the very least appreciate the disproportionate impact that this pandemic had on women and children. We need to be more empathetic to others’ situations and move to make the necessary decisions in our places of employment or influence. One of the most painful scenes and experiences I had in the Maseru central business district was seeing the empty stalls of the vegetable sellers. When one considers the economic situation of these traders and the families they have to feed, it seems not a well thought through plan to have completely shut down this industry when social distancing measures could have obviously been applied. The lack of empathy I noticed here of decision makers was them being comfortable in the knowledge that they would still hold their jobs and would get their veggies at Pick&Pay or Checkers. Let us be more understanding of this “She-Cession” and be more proactive, react better and make decisions that are to the benefit of all.

To end, I’d like to dedicate this poem to all women on this special day.

If I was a woman, I’d be a mother to all the world’s children. I’d kiss them good morning, feed their hungry tummies and smooth their broken aching hearts. I would make their sad sullen hearts sparkle like diamonds and fill their defeated souls with faith. I’d make them play, sing and laugh, roll down the play yard garden hills till they lie on their backs  and fall asleep due to their fun filled fatigue and then kiss them while they are asleep.

If I was a woman, I would balance my multiple roles and expectations from others with grace as I conquer life’s challenges and perform my daily tasks. I’d slay the dragons that are real to my kids that keep them  up at night and then have high tea with my girls in the afternoon. I’d remain a lady throughout. I would hold my lover close, wrap my body around his and make him explode as he experiences the true essence of the unbridled passion of an unashamedly passionate woman.

If I was a woman, I’d crash through walls, walk through windows and fly above mountains. I’d swim the rivers of doubt and wrestle the hurdles of perception without cracking a nail, blemishing my makeup or messing my hair-do. I’d be mummy-dearest to all the children of the world. I’d always stand by my man but honour my  ground and always respect my space; No matter what!. I’d embrace my family and always support my friends. But I’d never lose myself. But I’m not a woman. Yet I admire and respect all that a woman does. To all the women in my life, I honour you. My sisters, my aunties, my grannies, my girls, my nieces s, my cousins and my friends.

 Happy Women’s day today, tomorrow, forever and always