Tuesday 8th March is International Women’s Day, a day to mark the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women but also draw attention to gender inequality experienced by women.
In 2020, The United Nations identified women as being one of the most vulnerable groups that are hit hardest by pandemics. With officials suggesting that the coronavirus pandemic could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality. “Women are doing significantly more domestic chores and family care, because of the impact of the pandemic. Everything we worked for, that has taken 25 years, could be lost in a year. Employment and education opportunities could be lost, and women may suffer from poorer mental and physical health. The care burden poses a “real risk of reverting to 1950s gender stereotypes”, UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia stated 
As a grassroots women’s organisation NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network also recognised early that women in Donegal would face unique experiences, challenges and impacts during the pandemic because of their gender. We believed it was important women in Donegal had their lived experiences through the pandemic documented, recognised and acknowledged. And that women’s experiences and voices are acknowledged within any local and national post Covid-19 recovery strategy and that decision-making bodies recognise the particular experiences of women’s lives in society and tailor any recovery budgets, policies, plans and programmes accordingly.
For the past two year the Donegal Women’s network have collected data on how the pandemic has impacted women’s lives and gender equality. In 2020 we carried out a county wide survey with 832 women taking part, and in 2021 we carried out a follow up survey with 509 women. It is evident from the data gathered over these two years that the pandemic has created additional stresses for women in the Donegal and added pressure to existing gender inequalities and gender stereotypes.
The women who took part in the surveys talked about a number of issues and challenges they have faced since the start of the pandemic. Such as dealing with additional household workload, increased caring responsibilities, going through pregnancy during the pandemic, and dealing with health challenges. Many of these women talked about the additional workload and the challenge of balancing working from home and childcare, expectations. Home-schooling was a particular issue raised by women, many stated that they had experienced an assumption by their partner that it would be them who would look after home-schooling. Which was a cause of frustration for women.
Changes to Domestic Life
61.4% of women stated that they had seen an increase in physical household workload (such as cooking, cleaning etc.). 41.8% had seen an increase in household admin workload (such as managing bills, appointments etc.). And 50.3% experienced an increase in supporting a family/community member who had to Cocoon due to the pandemic. 38% of women surveyed said that they had seen an increase in adult care responsibilities and compared 46.3% stated that they had experienced an increase in child care responsibilities.
Mental Health Impacts
Women reported an overwhelming increase in the impact of the pandemic on their mental health. When asked how would you describe how your mental health has been impacted by the pandemic? 55.8% of women said moderately and a further 24% said it had extremely been impacted. This is an increase from June 2020 when 61.1% felt their mental health had been impacted by the pandemic.
The amount of time women had to look after their mental health has also been impacted, with 42% of women stating they now had less time to time.
Feelings of isolation and loneliness has been a particular area of mental health experienced by women with 75.4% of women reporting that they have experienced feelings of isolation, a sharp increase from the 60.4% reported in 2020. While 70.7% of women reported feelings of loneliness since the pandemic, again an increase from the 57% reported in 2020.
Paid work and employment challenges
43.2% of the women surveyed said that their job became classified as a frontline worker or essential worker. 31.8% of women were now working from home. 17.9% saw their job working hours reduced as a result of the pandemic. 12% experienced a job loss as a consequence. 14% received the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment. While 4.7% of surveyed women reported a job loss/suspension due to caring responsibilities.
Additional childcare responsibilities during the pandemic has impacted women’s paid work and employment greatly. When further asked whether they felt their employer was supportive in understanding how the pandemic has impacted these responsibilities, of those women the question directly applied to 28% of those women answered NO, an increase from the 24% result in June 2020.
When asked why they felt that their employer has not been supportive, a number of women gave examples of their experiences including, their employer not being flexible with childcare responsibilities, being forced to use annual leave for childcare, with essential workers with children finding it particularly challenging with employers.
The data further highlights that women have come to learn, develop, be resilient and adapt to living through the pandemic. Some women have experienced opportunities to develop and be innovative i.e. engaging in online learning and using technology for social and community engagement, which has allowed them to engage in new opportunities they may not have been able to in the past, due to travel distances or caring responsibilities.
And while women have reported adapting to living with the pandemic, a question that must be asked is at what cost to their long-term mental health? Is this adaptation and change sustainable in the long term or even fair? And is there significant capacity within mental health support services locally to meet future demand?
The experiences of women also highlight that there needs to be a better understanding about gender inequality and its impact on women’s lives. With the majority of childcare responsibilities falling onto the women within households, there seems to be assumptions it will be the woman who is solely responsible for this area of work. While there may be situations where this is agreed upon, the vast majority of the experiences expressed by women would indicate that there is often no agreement within relationships but rather an assumption.
Such assumptions are likely built by continued held social gender stereotypes, that a woman’s role is to look after the children and family home. Such stereotypes are detrimental to achieving gender equality and the healthy sustainable development of our society.
You can download a full copy of the 2021 follow up impact survey report with recommendations below here.
NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network would like to thank and acknowledge all the women who took the time to complete our county Covid-19 Impact Survey. Your time and insightful input are very much appreciated. Your shared experiences help inform our work over the coming year, as we will continue to support women throughout and beyond this pandemic.
If you would like to know further information about NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network and our work please visit donegalwomensnetwork.org or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
 Coronavirus and gender: More chores for women set back gains in equality; By Sandrine Lungumbu and Amelia Butterly, November 2020