WOMEN ON THE FRONT LINES
Have you noticed?
The people who ensure the stability of our society, and at the same time are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic are mainly women. Nurses, teachers, professional caregivers, helpline counselors, saleswomen, mothers. These women faced an extremely high risk of infection and handled a huge physical and mental strain. To make it easier for us to live, they had to work harder.
The gender pay gap in Slovakia was 19.4% even before the pandemic, which means that women earned almost a fifth of what men did. Moreover, in health care and social services, where 83% of all professionals are women, the wage gap remains 27.6%.1 The COVID-19 pandemic will likely even further widen the wage gap since it was primarily women who had to take care of children, elderly relatives, or they completely dropped out of the labor market.2
Not only has the wage gap widened, but so has the difference in the amount of unpaid work, such as caring for a household, children, or other family members, has increased. Even before the outbreak, women performed three times more unpaid work than men.3 The amount of unpaid work increased for 74.5% of women after the closure of schools, kindergartens, and childcare facilities in Slovakia.4 Single parents found themselves in an unsolvable situation, again mostly women, who often had to choose between work and childcare.
People working in the care sector deserve our recognition for their irreplaceable role in the society. It is about time they receive a decent income and deserved recognition.
1 Eurostat (2018)
2 In the USA, 2.5 mil. women lost a job during the pandemic; compared to 1.8 million men, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020)
3 UN (2020)
4 Institute for Research on Work and Family (2021)
People working in the health care experienced likely the greatest pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic. The most numerous group are nurses. Great work commitment and a lot of overtime are not rare in their lives, but since the outbreak, their workload has increased enormously.
Care for sick and dying patients, exhausting work in protective overalls, work during an emergency without the possibility of time off. All this represents a huge physical and mental burden. Nurses have been and continue to be at a very high risk of infection. They often found themselves in quarantine and isolated from their own families. During the pandemic year in Slovakia, nurses received an average salary of € 1,067 gross per month for professional work, which involves great responsibility.1
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, people in healthcare received applause. However, they deserve much more, and not just for working during the pandemic.
1 Statistical Office of the SR (2020)
As many as 82% of all teachers are women.1 At the same time, most teachers have agreed that online teaching is much more challenging than teaching in-person.2 No wonder, after the COVID-19 outbreak, they had to navigate digital skills and presentations overnight to manage the transition to online teaching. Often in a situation where many children did not have internet, computers, or tablets at home.
Teachers lacked support, methodological guidelines, teaching materials, but also the time to deliver worksheets to children who did not have internet at home. Even after returning to normal teaching, teachers still have it difficult. They still face an increased risk of infection and a permanent feeling of uncertainty. In schools today, no one knows what will happen the next day, so they must constantly count on switching to online teaching.
Teachers managed the challenge as straight A's students. They truly deserve a decent salary and social recognition for their work.
1 International Research on Teaching and Education, TALIS (2018)
2 Specifically, up to 90% of teachers agreed that online teaching is much more challenging for them than teaching in person. Dionýz Ilkovič Foundation (2020)
They take care of those who can no longer take care of themselves. They are often the most important people on whom the quality of life of our parents or grandparents depends. We are already experiencing an acute shortage of professional caregivers. This problem will continue to grow, as Slovakia is one of the fastest aging countries in Europe. However, we often overlook the importance of caregivers. Research shows their long-term low social status, which is also reflected when it comes to their wages.1 In 2020, the average salary of a caregiver in a facility for the elderly was € 941 gross.2
The COVID-19 pandemic opened our eyes a little. It showed how demanding and at the same time irreplaceable the work of professional caregivers is. They were isolated from their own families due to quarantine, many even lived in the facilities, so they worked continuously. The pandemic also affected a large number of women who work abroad as caregivers. When the borders were closed, they could not get to work. And if they got stuck on the other side of the border, they had to extend their work shifts by weeks.3
We should definitely take care of caregivers. The quality of many lives depends on their work.
Lockdown, separation from friends, work from home, loss of stable income, and economic dependence on a partner. These are all factors that have torn women experiencing violence out of relative security. Many of them relied on helpline counselors who provided them with non-stop support, whether psychological, legal or in the form of immediate intervention. The number of calls to the National Helpline for Women Experiencing Violence increased by almost half between January and December 2020. The number of women who contacted the line for the first time increased by 37% year-on-year.1
More important than statistics and percentages, however, are the individual life stories, which turned out well thanks to the counselors.
1 Coordination and Methodological Center for the Prevention of Violence against Women (2021)
Do you remember the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic when we all were buying pasta, flour, and other basic goods in a panic? Grocery stores surpassed sales which are common only before Christmas. Salespersons were on the front lines, again mostly women. Their work cannot be done from the safety of their homes. So, they have become warriors protected only by a plexiglass shield.
Saleswomen are in contact with hundreds of people every day, often those who lack consideration and politeness. They earn € 802 gross per month on average in Slovakia for this stressful and physically strenuous work.1 Please, let’s remember this the next time we stand in front of a cash register. The least we could do is to stay polite and smile on them.
1 Fourth quarter of 2020, DataCube - 47.2 Retail sales of food, beverages, and tobacco
Most of household and childcare work is usually on the shoulders of women.1 The COVID-19 pandemic complicated the lives of mothers in particular - as many as 74.5% said they had more work than usual when schools and kindergartens were closed.2 Mothers became teachers and educators from day to day, but at the same time had to take care of the household and do the usual amount of work in their paid jobs. This so-called triple burden on women has increased significantly. During the pandemic, women had to work more often in non-standard hours - either early in the morning or late in the evening.
The pandemic had a significant impact on the situation of single parents while women make up to 84% of single-parent families in Slovakia.3 Taking care of children in the transition to online learning or the inability to work from home brought them financial complications or a complete loss of income. Single mothers have previously been among the groups most at risk of poverty, and the pandemic has significantly aggravated their situation.4
Mothers can handle so much that they can overshadow superheroes. We shouldn’t take their unpaid work for granted.
1 Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, women performed almost three times more unpaid domestic and care work than men worldwide, UN (2020)
2 Institute for Labour and Family Research (2020)
The project is implemented thanks to the financial support from the U.S. Embassy in Slovakia.