A phrase that has been repeated by our leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic is that the disease does not discriminate. While this may be true in a medical sense, in an economic sense the prognosis is much more bleak.
As Australia moves past the worst of the Coronavirus, the country will be facing a very different economic environment. But amidst all the upheavals felt across the country, the pandemic has exposed inequalities that have existed in the Australian workforce for decades.
Australian women, across the board, have borne the brunt of the economic impacts of Coronavirus.
Here are four ways in which COVID-19 has impacted Australian women:
Since the COVID-19 lockdown the nation-wide unemployment rate has hit 6.2% and while many Australians have felt the effects of job layoffs, Aussie women have been hit hardest. The period between 14 March and 18 April saw female employment drop by 8.1%, compared to male employment which dropped by only 6.2%.
Industries that have been affected most by the Coronavirus lockdown – including hospitality, retail and education – are all female-dominated and largely consist of casual workers who have no access to paid sick leave and who are ineligible for JobKeeper support.
Women also dominate the often low-paid essential services that have been so crucial to keeping things running during the lockdown. 79.9% of health professionals and social assistance workers – including social workers, pharmacists, medical scientists and nurses – are women who are continuing to put their lives and health at risk by working throughout the pandemic.
Meanwhile, retail workers (including the crucial grocery store employees) are 57.7% female. The retail and grocery industries are perhaps the most significantly impacted industries worldwide as retail stores have shuttered due to the lockdown, laid off staff and enforced social distancing. Grocery store shelves, meanwhile, were left bare in Australia as pandemic-induced panic-buying saw essentials such as pasta, toilet paper and cleaning supplies disappear from shelves.
But while Australian women are losing out on paid employment and are also putting their lives at risk to continue working during the COVID-19 lockdown, they are also providing the majority of at-home childcare for children who are now being kept home from school as well as monitoring home-schooling activities.
A University of Melbourne study shows that for households with children, an extra six hours per day is spent on caring for or supervising school-age children. The survey’s responses suggest that for heterosexual families, around four hours of childcare are being done by women in comparison to the two hours done by their male partners.
Meanwhile, general housework has increased by around an hour and 10 minutes every day for women, but less than half an hour for men.
As the world began to lockdown in March, experts predicted a ‘calamitous’ increase in domestic violence globally. This has certainly been the case in Australia with hospital emergency departments reporting increases in significant injuries resulting from domestic and family violence.
With many people stuck at home all day with their abusers, support helplines are also seeing a disturbing trend. In some cases, chatlines are seeing an increase in victims reaching out for help and support as domestic violence has increased in frequency and severity. But in other cases, support workers are seeing a significant drop-off in people reaching out.
Susan Crane, who runs a frontline domestic violence shelter in Darwin, has experienced this herself: “Usually the phone rings off the hook, then we were getting one or two calls a day, sometimes none. What we were hearing during the lockdown was abusive partners controlling women 24 hours a day, including their phone calls.”
The national domestic violence hotline, 1800 RESPECT, saw a significant increase in use of its web chat function in March and April 2020, the second-busiest two-month period in the organisation’s history.
A spokeswoman from 1800 RESPECT said it had also seen a spike in phone calls, but mostly late at night when abusive partners were asleep.
This disturbing trend has prompted the Queensland government to invest $2 million into domestic and family violence support services. Perhaps other state governments should follow suit.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, support services are available.
Family and domestic violence support:
1800 Respect national helpline:1800 737 732
Women’s Crisis Line: 1800 811 811
Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491
Lifeline (24 hour crisis line): 131 114
Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277
NSW Domestic Violence Line: 1800 656 463
Qld DV Connect Womensline: 1800 811 811
Vic Safe Steps crisis response line: 1800 015 188
ACT 24/7 Crisis Line: (02) 6280 0900
Tas Family Violence Counselling and Support Service: 1800 608 122
SA Domestic Violence Crisis Line: 1800 800 098
WA Women’s Domestic Violence 24h Helpline: 1800 007 339
NT Domestic violence helpline: 1800 737 732