Coronavirus: When this is over, let us not forget the women

Frontline heroes of Covid-19 crisis, our women deserve better pay and protection

A few days ago, I saw a video from The Tenth Man creative agency in Dublin entitled The Phoenix. The video played out all the wonderful things we will do When This All Ends, hug our family, see our friends and experience all the glorious wonders of life again, a life free from the terrifying fear of the pandemic that has the world in its grasp.

As I watched, I thought about all that will be written about this period and this pandemic in the years to come: The books, the opinion pieces, the academic articles and the mountains of reports. Same as any catastrophic event that the world has known, wars, hurricanes, plane crashes, so too will the stories of this time be written.

But what will they say? Who will they be about? And crucially, who will be the heroes of these stories?

I can only hope that it will be inclusive of women, capturing the part played by women, the differential impacts on women and that women are making, and the roles of women during this time. About the care they have provided, and how we have valued the work that has been done by care workers in every setting.

That’s not to say that men are a less important part of this global tragedy; sadly more men are dying than women and yet men all over the world are playing a heroic role. But women are so rarely written about in these global events, and much less so when their work is behind the scenes, unseen and unheard but essential and critical to the effort to keep us going at this time.

Creche workers

I want to read the stories of the healthcare workers. The almost 80 per cent of healthcare workers in the EU that are women . The many healthcare workers that are migrants to Ireland, and often migrants to Europe too.

I want to read the stories of the creche workers, like those in Belgium, that continue to go to work to care for the children of healthcare workers.

I want to read the stories of the women who suddenly find themselves working from home, with targets and goals to meet. But with the unspoken addition of 24-hour care for children and housework, and often providing food and support to elderly relatives or neighbours in addition. Their husbands and partners have shared the burden more than ever before, but still, the burden falls largely on their shoulders.

I want to read the stories of the women who suddenly find themselves working from home, with targets and goals

And I want to read the stories of the women who are victims of domestic violence. The women who are locked up for 24 hours a day with their abuser, and live with a permanent sense of dread in the pit of their stomach.

I want to read the stories of the women. But reading their stories is not enough if we don’t acknowledge that we are reading the stories perpetuated through an unequal system, an unfair society. And something has got to give, some things have got to change.

Almost 80 per cent of healthcare workers may be women, but they still receive 84 cent for every euro a man receives, even when the work is the same.

Creche staff may still go to work to care for the children of healthcare workers, but the question remains as to whether their job will still be there when all this is over due to inordinately high insurance costs suffocating the likelihood of the creche continuing to operate and to be profitable enough to pay childcare staff’s wages.

Women may be working from home, meeting all goals and targets that they are required to. But the overwhelming burden of care for their families, often squeezed between childcare and caring for older parents, means that those goals and targets are often reached late at night, because work can only start once the kids have gone to bed.

Domestic violence

And the women who are victims of domestic violence while the country and continent is in confinement. Well those women have always been there, domestic violence isn’t an unheard-of phenomenon, this is nothing new. But the violence continues.

Some things have got to change.

So instead of just reading the stories that will be written when this all ends, we need to rather commit to righting these wrongs. And this is all doable, it’s not asking the impossible.

We need to commit to righting these wrongs. And this is all doable

Those almost 80 per cent of healthcare workers that are female, like women everywhere who earn less than men, need the European Parliament to swiftly adopt legislation to close the gender pay gap.

For those creche staff, the next government must take action to make sure that creches can stay financially viable and that staff can be paid a decent and dignified wage. They are as much on the front lines as anyone else in this crisis, and are entrusted with our most cherished next generation. A decent wage and a dependable future is the least that we owe them.

For the women who are overwhelmed in working from home with very little support, we need a cultural shift to ensure that flexible working times and working from home become the new norm, to allow women and families to cherish the special moments we’ve come to recognise as so dear to us. And so that no woman has to choose between work, family life and sleep.

And for the women who are suffering behind closed doors with abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse and coercive control, we all need to be on the lookout for it. For gardaí to know the signs of “something funny” when they are called to a house where there is too much noise, for neighbours who hear that noise, and for family who notice that their relative suddenly begins to be perpetually covered in bruises.

So let us say now, that we don’t want to just read the stories, we want to change the stories. For the women that have been our heroes through this time, now it’s our turn to be their champions.

Frances Fitzgerald is a member of the European Parliament for Dublin