TO MARK International Women’s Day, we asked readers how the pandemic has impacted you – and the results make for sobering reading.
It’s been a year like no other.
While the pandemic has been tough for everyone, multiple studies suggest that women have been disproportionately impacted by it, both at home and at work
While the pandemic has been tough for everyone, multiple studies suggest that women have been disproportionately impacted by it, both at home and at work.
Globally, women are 1.8 times more likely to have lost their jobs in the last year, while the Women And Equalities Committee has warned that the government risks turning back the clock on gender equality unless it takes proactive steps to support women through the pandemic.
One In Ten readers lost their job during the pandemic
Nearly half have felt more anxious and stressed in the last year, and six in 10 have gained weight.
Unsurprisingly, we also discovered that home and family lives have suffered, with more than half of those with children finding homeschooling tough.
Nearly 20% of our readers say their relationship with their partner has deteriorated, while 52% are doing more housework than their other half.
For many of our readers, it’s been hard going financially.
We discovered that home and family lives have suffered with more than half of those with children finding homeschooling tough
Just over 23% of readers who work have been furloughed while an additional 18% have either taken a pay cut or lost their job completely
Just over 23% of you who work have been furloughed, while an additional 18% have either taken a pay cut or lost their job completely.
Unsurprisingly, 32% of women have seen a downturn in their finances in the last year, with more than 13% struggling to pay the rent, and 8% taking a mortgage holiday.
We spoke to some of the women behind the shocking statistics to hear their stories.
Aysel Durel, 37, a software engineering student, lives in London.
“Before the pandemic, I’d been renting a lovely flat in Wimbledon, south-west London, with my friend Alice, 35, for two years.
Aysel Durel says: ‘It has been an incredibly tough year, and I long to be out there earning again’
“I was working as a self-employed nanny and had just started looking after a sweet 18-month-old girl, which I enjoyed. I earned around £500 a week and was happy.
“Then coronavirus happened.
“The family I was working for let me go when lockdown hit last March, because their business went under and they no longer needed me.
“I was freelance, so I couldn’t be furloughed, and wasn’t eligible for a government grant as I hadn’t been self-employed for the mandatory three years.
“It was a rough few months.
“I’d been saving up to buy a house and although I’d only managed to set aside about £3,000, it was awful to watch my hard-earned savings disappear on just living.
“My hair began to fall out from stress.
I felt hopeless, and I was prescribed antidepressants
“In June, the contract on our flat ran out, and while it was a relief not to have to pay the steep rent any more, we were devastated to say goodbye to a home where we’d been happy.
“With no money coming in, I couldn’t get a new lease anywhere, so I put all my possessions into storage and went to stay with a friend, hoping it would just be for a few weeks.
“However, between June and November, I stayed at five different places, sleeping on sofas or in a spare room if there was space.
“I claimed Universal Credit, as well as going into my overdraft and spending on my credit card.
“I borrowed small amounts of money from my family from time to time, but I hated the feeling of being a burden.
“I applied for endless jobs, but with unemployment so high, I kept getting knocked back.
I now live frugally, buying big bags of chickpeas or rice wholesale, and I’m still applying for part-time jobs while I study
“I had brief periods of work, but it was always unsecured contracts. Coming to terms with being homeless was tough – I’d never had money troubles before, but the pandemic changed everything.
“I felt hopeless, and I was prescribed antidepressants.
“In September, I found casual work as a nanny again.
“The following month, the Job Centre told me about a charity called Beam that helps homeless people retrain.
“I’ve always dreamed of becoming a software engineer, because I’m fascinated by how computers work, but I knew it was tough to get into.
“I was overwhelmed when the charity helped me crowdfund the £2,500 I needed to study for the four-month front end development diploma, and to buy a laptop.
More than 50% of women who live with a partner have found themselves doing more of the housework
“In November, I found a bedsit to live in using my wages from my nanny job.
“But I was let go again when we went into lockdown – thankfully, the council helped me keep my bedsit with housing benefits.
“A year ago, if you’d told me I’d be living off food banks, I never would have believed you, but they’ve been a life-saver.
“I now live frugally, buying big bags of chickpeas or rice wholesale, and I’m still applying for part-time jobs while I study.
“Having a home and my studies to focus on has helped me feel more like myself, and I’ve come off my medication.
“But it has been an incredibly tough year, and I long to be out there earning again.”
Raj Gill, 47, a journalist and PR, lives in Glasgow with husband Jugtar, 47, daughter Karam, 17, and son Jeevan, 15.
“Pre-pandemic, my husband Jugtar and I split things pretty evenly.
Raj Gill said: ‘I work 50 hours a week, while Jugtar works every other day at the office, running his retail business, with alternate admin days at home’
“He would do a lot of the driving, ferrying Karam and Jeevan around, while I did most of the cooking.
“We’d also eat out a lot and had a cleaner once a week. But since March last year, things have changed dramatically.
“We no longer have our cleaner, and with four of us at home all day, every day, the amount of housework and cooking has increased dramatically.
“I work 50 hours a week, while Jugtar works every other day at the office, running his retail business, with alternate admin days at home.
32% say they’re in a worse position financially due to the pandemic
“On his days at home, he helps with homeschooling, but that’s where it stops.
“Despite the fact he works less intensively than me, I’ve found myself doing almost everything – cooking meals, vacuuming, cleaning, laundry, the works.
“Because it happened gradually, it took me a while to realise how uneven things were.
“He seems to think that because I’m at home all day while he’s in the office, I can just do it all. He’s just become a lot lazier.
Raj says: ‘I’m at the end of my tether and I’m sick to death of feeling like a servant 24/7’
“As a result, I’m totally knackered and hugely resentful. I’ve been working all hours, but find myself folding the washing during phone calls, or prepping veg for dinner with my camera off on Zooms.
“As a family we’ve had multiple rows, but no matter how much I scream and shout, nothing changes.
“While Jugtar often spends time looking after his elderly mother, he does seem to have more time to relax and keep up his self-care than me
“I give the kids chores, but they don’t make much effort either – the other day I heard Jeevan telling Karam he deliberately does them badly because he knows I’ll end up doing them instead.
46% say Covid has had a negative effect on their home life
“I was fuming! At one point I went on strike and made everyone eat ready meals and takeaways, but they were thrilled to get to eat more fast food – and it cost a bomb.
“I’m at the end of my tether and I’m sick to death of feeling like a servant 24/7.
“From talking to my friends, I know I’m not alone
“There’s the odd husband who’s pulling his weight, but it seems like most blokes are still not doing enough around the house, and one or two mates have even mentioned divorce.
“Jugtar and I will get through this, but he needs to help more because I can’t carry on much longer.
“As soon as things open up, I’m going to book myself into a nice hotel and leave them to it – Jugtar will soon remember how much there is to do.”
Tamsin Caine, 47, a financial planner, lives in Cheshire with her son, 17, and daughter, 15.
“The first few weeks of the pandemic were terrifying – as an asthmatic, I was too afraid to leave the house, so I stopped going out.
Tamsin Caine said: ‘My mental health has always been pretty good, so I didn’t fully recognise the signs when things began to slip’
“The only people I saw were my son and daughter, who split their time between me and their dad.
“I’ve always loved my job as the director of a financial planning company, but I began to feel the strain, big time.
“My workload increased dramatically as clients began to worry about money, and I suddenly had to start answering emails late at night and on weekends.
“I began to dread checking my inbox, and my phone felt like a bomb in my pocket.
“My mental health has always been pretty good, so I didn’t fully recognise the signs when things began to slip.
“I felt a constant hum of anxiety and was permanently on edge.
“It got to the stage where I began to shake all over at the prospect of another Zoom call, often finding myself freezing up on screen.
“By May, I hadn’t left the house for eight weeks.
“One day I was due to have an important call with a client and I just felt I was physically incapable of doing it.
“I’ve worked with my CEO for years and had always kept my emotions under wraps, so when I rang him in floods of tears, he was shocked.
Tamsin said: ‘I stayed in bed for the next three days, telling the kids I had a migraine’
“He told me to take some time off immediately.
“That afternoon I managed to get a face-to-face emergency appointment with a private therapist.
“I also saw a GP, who prescribed me beta blockers for anxiety, although I decided to see if I would start to feel better without them.
“I stayed in bed for the next three days, telling the kids I had a migraine.
“That time is a blur – I just slept and zoned out. I don’t think the kids realised anything was up, and I didn’t speak to anyone else.
I stayed in bed for the next three days, telling the kids I had a migraine
“I knew things had to change, and I spent the next few months having therapy to help ease the stress I felt.
“I haven’t needed the meds, but I’ve made sure I go for a walk every day, eased back into running and started journaling, all of which I’ve found have helped.
“At work, I block out whole days where no one can put anything in my calendar, and I’m careful not to take on too much.
“I’ve now been open with colleagues, family and friends about what I’ve been through, and they’ve been very supportive.
“During the last two lockdowns, I’ve felt a lot better, but it’s still been hard work. I’m all too aware of becoming overwhelmed again.”
52% of those with kids have struggled with homeschooling
Melissa Gauge, 41, runs her own business and lives in London with husband Tom, 41, and kids Casper, eight, and Jemima, six.
“Homeschooling takes six hours a day, and running my admin and bookkeeping business takes eight.
Melissa Gauge said: ‘Because I have the scope to work flexibly, it’s me who’s taken on 70% of the childcare’
“That’s 14 hours a day before you even start to include sleeping, cooking and chores – the numbers don’t add up.
“My husband Tom works very long hours in finance and earns substantially more than me.
“Because I have the scope to work flexibly, it’s me who’s taken on 70% of the childcare.
“Though it makes sense for Tom to prioritise his job, it doesn’t mean it’s any easier for me, especially as I’ve worked so hard to build up my business.
“Most days I get up at 5am to cram some work in before Casper and Jemima wake up. Then, once they’re in bed at night, I start work again.
“Somehow, I’ve managed to keep the business on an even keel, but it’s been exhausting.
If I choose my business, I feel like I’m a bad mum. But I have eight employees who also depend on me
“With both of us working from home, Tom and I are often on important calls at the same time and I’ve had the kids running in naked when I’m on Zoom!
“The hardest part is the guilt.
“Every day I’m faced with an impossible choice between my kids and my work.
“If I choose my business, I feel like I’m a bad mum. But I have eight employees who also depend on me.
“In the past, if someone had told me that we’d have all this extra time with the kids when they’re at such a wonderful age, I’d have thought it sounded great.
“But the truth is, we’ve all been stuck at home, there’s laundry everywhere and there have been several times when I’ve had to nip to the bathroom for a cry as I am so overwhelmed.
“By 10pm, I’m knackered and ready for bed. I miss having time to exercise and catch up with friends – in the first lockdown, we did Zoom drinks nights, but that’s all gone out of the window this time.
Melissa said: ‘If someone had told me that we’d have all this extra time with the kids when they’re at such a wonderful age, I’d have thought it sounded great’
“It seems like lots of women are juggling 2020s careers with 1950s family roles.
“But I know that Tom is working long hours, too – it’s not like he’s logging off at 6pm to have a bubble bath.
“He does about a third of the childcare and does his share of housework, but the pandemic has upended all of our lives. I am so thankful the kids are finally going back to school.”
- Illustrations: Blue Bateau/Central Illustration
- For more info about Beam, a social enterprise that helps homeless people have a brighter future through sponsorship, visit Beam.org.
- For more info about Melissa’s business SpareMyTime, a service for small businesses to outsource their admin, bookkeeping and social media, visit Sparemytime.com.
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