Study says women work longer hours, face greater risks amid COVID-19; men take more work at home
DAVAO CITY –– Women in the most disadvantaged sectors work longer hours, brave greater risks, and are even stigmatized in the face of COVID-19, according to a study made by civil society groups and their government partners among women in the urban poor, rural poor and internally displaced persons.
“We confirmed that women’s care work did grow longer, riskier, stigmatized, and underpaid. But we also have evidence that men took on a larger share of domestic work, said Aimee Santos, national gender officer of the United Nations Population Fund-Philippines (UN FPA), who presented the study in an online forum earlier this week.
She said the study did not claim to represent the regions but only sought the picture of the most vulnerable sector and how they were coping.
She said these were sectors that were hard to reach, who could not respond to online surveys but may badly need government help.
With the help of 25 partner government agencies and local civil society groups, 100 interviewees from UNFPA talked to 950 women at the height of the two-month lockdown to find out how they were coping.
She said 799 of these women came from the urban poor sector in six cities of the National Capital Region, rural women in Bicol and Samar, and internally displaced persons in Batangas and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
She said 151 of their respondents also included returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and active OFWs in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and other countries.
She said labor participation and unemployment statistics before COVID-19 showed that women were already taking in more work than the men.
The 2019 labor statistics showed women’s labor force participation rate at 39 percent against men’s labor participation rate of 61 percent.
But the unemployment rate among women was only at 38.6 percent against the men’s unemployment rate of 61.4 percent.
Santos said having more work for women did not necessarily mean women were experiencing livable wages. “Many of them are still underemployed and employed in informal economic jobs.”
She added that even if women were working outside the home, they still carried a disproportionate burden of housework inside the home.
“Yet, we see this in the graph (of the survey responses) that men are taking on three to four more work hours of the care work (household chores) than they used to,” she said. “Laba, luto (Washing clothes, cooking), taking care of children, most of the work that used to be considered pambabae (for women),” she said.
“Na kaya pala nila ‘pag may oras at (That men can do the job if they have the time and) intention, they’re able to take on gender roles not traditionally taken by men,” she said.
But whether or not this behavior would lead to a sustained redistribution of domestic work that will hopefully free women to pursue more economic activities remain to be seen, she said.
The study aimed at surfacing how women and men, girls and boys experienced the COVID-19 pandemic differently and how they dealt with it. Santos said the study would strengthen the government’s COVID-19 response and make it more gender-sensitive.
“How are women, men, girls, boys experiencing pandemic differently? Has this pandemic leveled the playing field or deepened the gender gap? Are we able to help the women and girls who are already at the edge of the cliff before COVID-19 came? Have we helped them pull back or have we pushed them off the cliff?” she asked during her presentation.
She said the women that the group interviewed were also taking in more care work in the communities during the pandemic. “We see barangay health workers taking an active part in community-based prevention efforts because they see it as their duty during the time of national health emergency,” she said.
But aside from serving the community, the initiative to serve also allowed women to get closer to the local government units to access resources, although the small stipend they received ironically disqualified them from the food relief and the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), Santos added.
“They also expressed how they bear the brunt of people’s frustration and fear, how they are stigmatized as possible carriers of the disease so that the sacrifices that they did not (match) the paranoia that they suffered and the restrictions to see their families,” she said.
Another sector experiencing social stigma is the returning migrant workers, according to the study results.
“We heard from our respondents that they used to be called the countries’ heroes, now (they’re) being viewed as disease carriers,” Santos said.
Local people are becoming afraid of migrant workers coming home from abroad, especially when some of them proved to be COVID-19-positive.
She said active OFWs who worked in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and other countries also shared their experiences in their places of work.
Often, they were the ones asked by employers to go out, run errands, and go to public places without protective gear. Some reported how their exploitative employers also refused to give them their day off, locking them in, and requiring them to work nonstop.
Those OFWs, whose contracts were terminated and who were sent home by employers, faced stigma and exclusion when they come home, the study said.
“We also heard reports that returning migrant workers, once they arrived, were considered ineligible for public assistance,” she said.
The report also called attention to the vulnerable sector that badly needed the government’s help but was excluded in the social amelioration package because they did not have a physical house, did not have a permanent address, were not registered voters, and were not a member of a housing association in their area. These included the homeless, the young mothers who live under their father’s households, referred to by the group as “hidden households.”
Dr. Rhodora Bucoy, chair of the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), said during the online forum the data gathered by the UN FPA and partner CSOs was timely to allow the government to craft the right COVID-19 response to address the gap.
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