A Gendered Pandemic Recoil: Women face a tougher “new normal”

Story by Julienne Espinosa and Noelle Mejia

For the longest time, women are compelled to face the most biased wars. 

Beyond statistical reports of rising COVID-19 cases and mortality rates, it would seem that numbers do not capture the true suffering people have to endure. 

Worse, among these blanketed perils are ones the patriarchal society overlooks and considers mundane: the heavier toll of the pandemic on women.

Not a home anymore

With the majority of jobs shifting to work from home set-ups, one might assume that carrying them out is easier with everything within arm’s reach. 

Leandel Labit, a high school teacher infected by COVID-19 last October, proved this presumption wrong. Despite being single, she still had to support not just her family but also her struggling students.

“Ang mahirap nu’n [ay] mag provide ng basic needs and food to those isolated, like sa akin, to my niece who also got infected and to my mother. Dahil nga bawal lumabas,” she recalls as she was the one in charge of buying supplies before she got infected. 

She chose to continue teaching her students virtually despite struggling to recover – all with the mindset of not making the situation worse for her colleagues and students. 

“If papalitan agad ng bagong teacher, mag-aadjust pa siya. At that time, tuliro na rin ang mga bata sa bagong mode of learning, tapos ‘yung teachers, hirap [din]” she says. 

A study by Priyanshi Chauhan from Jawaharlal Nehru University, an Indian public central institution, shows that household chores are commonly gendered in nature. Staying indoors means doubled work demands for mothers and female homemakers, especially those with children.

Sharing this struggle are working mothers like Pearl Garcia. As a solo parent for eight years, she feels extremely challenged for her and her two children to survive the ‘new normal.’ 

“D’on sa kumpanya ko na ‘no work, no pay,’ bawal na bawal sa akin ang mapagod o magkasakit or else walang makakain mga anak ko, kakapusin na naman kami,” she says. 

With the pandemic adding a strain on her financial struggles, Pearl also bears the unprecedented discrimination from the people around her for being a single parent. 

Minsan, nafi-feel ko rin na malaki yung pressure sakin ng mga kakilala at kapitbahay ko kasi alam nila na mag-isa lang akong provider sa mga anak ko, iniisip siguro nila na baka hindi ko na kaya o nahihirapan [ang] mga anak ko,” she adds.

Moreover, Pearl admitted that she once regretted her decision of leaving her abusive marriage in 2013, thinking that it made their lives even harder, especially now.

“Ang pakiramdam ko sa sarili ko ay lesser person ako, na may mali ako at dapat bumalik ako sa dati kong sitwasyon,” she says.

Pearl’s experience aligns with a study by Boston Consulting Group which revealed that working women spend an average of 15 more hours a week doing domestic work to meet both career and family demands compared to their male counterparts.

Needless to say, working mothers like Pearl are doing significantly more work in performing their household and child care responsibilities, while also pursuing their own professions. 

Compelled to pause

Aieah Cevallos was supposed to be a first-year college student this academic year. Deciding not to enroll, she had to pause at chasing her own dreams in order to realize others’. 

She and her siblings depend on their uncle for their finances. However, since her uncle faced troubles at work due to the pandemic, she and her elder sister gave way for their younger siblings to be enrolled.

“Anong pakiramdam ko sa pagiging huli? Syempre masakit,” she laments. “I mean, sila nakakapag-simula nang maabot [ang] pangarap [nila], ako nandito. Naka-stuck.”

With this, she assumed primary caretaking duties at home alongside her mother who is currently unemployed.

“‘Yung pakiramdam ko na pagiging “right hand” ni mama kung tatawagin ay isang privilege kasi tingin niya sakin maaasahan talaga,” she says. “[Pero] minsan kahit wala na akong gana sundin ‘yung mga utos nila, kailangan kong gawin kasi wala na silang ibang inaasahan kundi ako.”

Disruptions in the education sector brought by the pandemic also hurt working students especially at a time when low-income families are also suffering with unemployment. 

Jhonna Mantal, a grade 11 student, decided to assist her mother in attending to their family’s needs when she started working as a stay-in household help in Marikina.

Losing her father at 15, Jhonna became her family’s breadwinner. She started working as an all-around help in a small cafeteria in Masbate while her mother worked as a part-time laundress in their town. 

“Hindi na ako nu’n makapag-aral nang maayos dahil kulang kami sa pera,” she recalls. “Naaawa ako sa mga kapatid kong maliit, kasi ‘yung kinakain namin na mga lumang pagkain, kinakain din nila … kaya naisip ko na magtrabaho na.”

Now 19, Jhonna struggles to assist her mother in paying off debts, while also confronting the challenges of online classes at her employer’s home as she lacks her own resources for remote learning.

“Nahirapan din ako sa gadget ko kasi phone lang naman [ang] meron ako. Buti na lang, mabait ‘yung amo ko at nakabigay siya kahit papaano ng luma nilang laptop, kaya may nagagamit na rin ako sa mga modules,” she says.

Jhonna also mentioned how the learning setup also affects the sum she sends to her family. 

“Kahit inaalok ako minsan ng amo ko na siya na magbabayad nung pang-earphones ko o pambili ko ng mga school supplies, talagang nahihiya kasi ako. Kaya nababawasan ko rin yung pera na pinapadala ko kila mama,” she adds.

More to carry

Not only are women compromising their own needs to fulfill others’, but they are also constantly conditioning themselves to live with their harsh reality.

Unenrolled, Aieah chose to work at a convenience store to help contribute in paying their monthly expenses. 

“Kahit papaano nakakatulong [ako] sa mga gastusin gaya kapag nagigipit kami sa pagkain o kaya ambag sa mga bayarin sa kuryente o tubig,” she says. “[Pero] hindi siya enough kung sa pagtatrabaho ko [lang] kukunin ang pang araw-araw naming gastusin.”

Still teaching while isolated, Leandel also faced the mental burden of making everything appear fine when she’s teaching. Behind the laptop screen is her having an anxiety attack and coughing until she was heaving.

This was on top of her constant overthinking while in self-quarantine. She was also rattled about the possibility of her family being infected with Covid-19.

The hardest was when [I was] isolated … Waiting for the worse news or hoping for the good news every morning and every night. That’s torture,” she recalls.

Despite the pandemic’s impact to Jhonna’s work and schooling, she believes her experiences during the lockdown changed her plans for herself and her family’s future. 

“Gusto ko rin talaga makapagtapos, kasi gusto ko makapag college … kasi gusto ko talaga matulungan sila mama, gusto ko sila maahon sa kahirapan … gusto ko sila iangat [mula] sa kung saan sila ngayon,” she says.

Women from low-income families, working single mothers and young female breadwinners end up in a never-ending battle of figuring out how to put food on the table while keeping a roof over their heads. 

The uncertainty they face only underlines the immediate need for more support and safety nets for women during the pandemic. 

Once the pandemic subsides, the government’s focus on economic recovery also hinges on allowing women to attain opportunities to become more than just breadwinners. 

The global crisis has already been tough on all families across the world. But for women who are struggling to provide for their household, the pandemic made their grim realities even more visible. 

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