As South Africans celebrate National Women’s Day on the 9th of August, we also commemorate our 500th day in lockdown due to COVID-19.
Although the pandemic has had negative physical, psychological as well as economic effects on everyone the world over, the reality is that all of these challenges were exacerbated for women and girls due to their gender.
A study conducted by the United Nations earlier this year on the impact of COVID-19 on gender equality in Southern Africa found that all of the pressure and difficulties women faced before the pandemic have increased substantially over the past 16 months.
As women were already more likely to live in poverty before the pandemic, the economic effects of COVID-19 have only worsened the living conditions of many South African women. Women who were economically active before the pandemic were more likely than men to become economically inactive or unemployed. Women were also found to have a higher chance of malnutrition both before and during the pandemic than men.
Before the pandemic women bore the brunt of unpaid domestic and care work, and this was worsened by women being forced to take on even more roles during the lockdown. Many women found themselves having to do domestic work, take on the role of a teacher as children switched to homeschooling, care for ill family members (sometimes while ill themselves) as well as having to work from home if their employer allowed it.
Gender-based violence also increased during the lockdown as factors such as economic strain, substance abuse and being in a confined environment all lead to more violence in the home.
Given all this pressure, it is no surprise that women were found to be more likely than men to experience mental and emotional strain and to become ill more often.
As we celebrate National Women’s Day, we must prioritise the well-being of women working hard to take care of themselves and their families during these trying times. Government and civil society should prioritise programmes that provide economic and social support to women and girls, and loved ones should provide more support and assistance to women in terms of household chores and child-rearing.
It is also important for us as women to take care of ourselves. Here are some self-care tips to help women prioritize their wellbeing during difficult times:
- Make time to move every day. Whether it is following a regular exercise program, practising deep breathing, or taking a walk outside, moving your body helps to release stress and produces endorphins that improve your mood.
- Start a journal and write down your feelings. Putting them on paper allows you to own your feelings, acknowledge them and then let them free. Recording your thoughts on paper can keep your thoughts organised and can be a healthy outlet for stress and frustration.
- Take a break from social media. While social media has many benefits, scrolling through too many negative stories can have a bad effect on your mental health. Rather use that time to read a book, or practise a hobby you enjoy.
- Spend some time outside. Exposure to sunlight increases the brains release of serotonin, which is associated with boosting your mood and feelings of wellbeing. Even spending ten minutes outside while drinking a cup of tea will have a positive effect on your mental health.
- Ask for help. You do not have to do it all alone. Reach out to your partner, your family, your friends or your neighbours if you are struggling. Whether you need help cleaning the house or need just someone to speak to, trust those around you to help and support you.