2021-10-15 06:01:34 How Melbourne’s lockdown exposed the city’s ‘gender gap’ | Women News
How Melbourne’s lockdown exposed the city’s ‘gender gap’ | Women News
Melbourne, Victoria – Shemsiya Waritu knew she was in for a challenge when the world’s longest lockdown began in her hometown in March 2020.
With her husband away, she would have to manage not only work and daily household duties for four children, but also homeschooling.
She was “actually nervous,” said the Oromo woman from Ethiopia, who had received little formal education and had few formal English literacy skills.
“I don’t have the abilities to teach them,” she explained. “Even if I had the skills to help them, I wouldn’t be able to help them because I have other responsibilities.”
Shemsiya, who has lived in Melbourne since 1995, told Al Jazeera that she reflected on her upbringing in a large family with busy, hardworking parents, where it is each child’s responsibility to look after the younger sibling.
“So I just thought to myself, ‘How did we survive as Africans?'” ‘What kind of assistance did we receive when we had to do our homework?’ “I’m going to make sure they all help each other.”
She encouraged her Australian-born children to assist the next youngest with their schoolwork and homework.
“At home, we must do so because it is our responsibility – it is how we support our parents.” Because they’d be out there trying to help us. As a result, it is our responsibility [as children] to look after one another. We must, without a doubt, babysit each other.”
While Shemsiya acknowledges that she was fortunate to receive school assistance, she also stated that the experience of homeschooling without adequate literacy and computer skills was shared by many in the African Australian community.
“When I was panicking, I thought of so many families – especially new arrivals – who don’t speak English and can’t even tell the teachers, ‘Yes, I need help in these areas,'” she told Al Jazeera.
Shemsiya Waritu used her Ethiopian upbringing to guide her Australian-born children through Melbourne’s long-running lockdown.
She adds that, while she is married and was fortunate to have the support of her husband once he returned, the difficulties for many single mothers in the migrant community were exacerbated.
“I can’t imagine what many families had to endure.”
Gender disparities are exposed
Shemsiya is one of thousands of women in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, who have been subjected to extreme stress as a result of a series of six lockdowns that will have lasted a total of 267 days by the time they are lifted on October 26.
Prolonged school closures, a 9 p.m. curfew, and a requirement that people stay within 5km (3 miles) of their home during the one hour a day they were allowed out for exercise have been among the harshest restrictions in the world.
Except for grocery stores and other essential services, all businesses have closed, and care facilities such as childcare have also been closed.
As a result, all homeschooling and preschool childcare has had to take place within the confines of the home, within a strict and tightly controlled social isolation environment.
Tanja Kovac, CEO of Gender Equity Victoria, told Al Jazeera that while the lockdown affected everyone in Victoria, “the impacts have been gendered across the board.”
She claims that enormous pressures have been placed not only on mothers, but also on industries that employ a high proportion of women, with female-dominated businesses such as salons, childcare, hairdressers, and beauty parlors forced to close.
“It’s meant that [women] have lost jobs, they’ve had financial challenges within their homes, and they’ve needed to rely on government subsidies and support,” Kovac explained.
In contrast, male-dominated industries such as construction have largely remained open, despite evidence of high rates of COVID-19 transmission. Last month, a two-week closure and vaccine mandate imposed on builders sparked violent protests.
During the pandemic, the pressure on what Kovac refers to as the “deeply feminized” essential service workforce of nurses, elderly care, and educators has also increased.
“COVID-19 has revealed massive gender gaps in society,” said Kovac. “One of the most significant ways it did that was by clearly demonstrating that a significant portion of our essential service workforce is made up of women, and that the majority of those roles are significantly underpaid.”
Police were stationed at public housing blocks, which were subjected to a tighter lockdown than the rest of Melbourne. Many people from migrant and refugee backgrounds live in the flats.
According to Kovac, whose organization recently published a report documenting the experiences of migrant and refugee women, the pressures on women in those communities are even greater.
“Many migrant and refugee women did not qualify for government subsidies because they were barred from accessing that support due to visa and other reasons,” Kovac told Al Jazeera. “Many of them were left behind and in extremely precarious financial situations.”
Additional lockdown restrictions were imposed on public housing flats, with some complexes being sealed off.
The targeting of certain residential areas, which are primarily populated by migrants and refugees, not only increased the pressure on those who live there, but was also exploited by Australia’s right-wing politicians. The One Nation party’s leader, Pauline Hanson, called the residents of the affected tower blocks “alcoholics” and “drug addicts” who should have learned English before coming to Australia.
Diversity is required.
The Victorian Ombudsman found the lockdowns to be a violation of human rights.
According to Debra Parkinson, manager of Gender and Disaster Australia, her research into natural disasters – including Australian bushfires – reveals that the impact on women is often more severe than on men.
This includes an increase in domestic violence, which occurs when the stresses of job loss, increased unemployment, poverty, and drug and alcohol abuse “have a flow-on effect to violence against women.”
While violence against women has increased globally during the pandemic, Parkinson claims that Melbourne’s prolonged lockdown made women more vulnerable by potentially being locked in the house with a perpetrator of violence.
“And those usual supports they might have had – such as extended family or neighbors, or even formal supports – have been severely impacted by COVID,” she explained.
However, the pandemic, which is considered a natural disaster, provides an opportunity to learn and make changes in disaster response in the future.
“We need more diverse voices there, including women and LGBTIQ people taking those visible decision-making roles,” Parkinson said.
“Involving those people in the decision-making process.” And I’m not just referring to women; I’m referring to women with gendered expertise.”
Gabrielle Williams, the Victorian Minister for Women and Family Violence Prevention, agrees that the pandemic’s impact has been gendered.
“It’s clear that women have been significantly and disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 around the world, with women shouldering even more of the burden of unpaid caring responsibilities while also being hardest hit by the pandemic’s economic impacts,” she told Al Jazeera.
In March, the state of Victoria passed the Gender Equality Act, which aims to address structural inequalities faced by women.
Williams claims that in response to the increase in family violence, the government has increased family violence service responses, such as increased online and phone assistance and identifying family violence at testing sites and health care facilities.
“We know that family violence can happen in any community, and having access to culturally and linguistically appropriate support is critical – which is why we’re investing in specialist services, programs, and support services,” she said.
In March of this year, Victoria became the first Australian state to enact a Gender Equality Act, with the goal of addressing the structural inequalities that women face, both economically and socially.
With the lockdown set to end, Shemsiya told Al Jazeera that while she is grateful for her children’s school’s support and the success of her African homeschooling project, she also hopes the government will reach out to migrant and refugee families to ask what lessons can be drawn from the experience.
“I hear a lot of struggle and complaints in a lot of families,” she said. “It’s critical to interview families and learn what happened.” The pressure is not only on parents, but also on children.”