GENDERED ROLES

Why chores done by women increase coronavirus risk

Where women spend about five hours on unpaid care work daily, men spend just one

In Summary

• Gender influences patterns of exposure to infectious agents and treatment

• Kenyan women earn Sh68 for every Sh100 paid to men, according to the Global Gender Report 2017

Lifebuoy soap ambassador Janet Mbugua and Heroes for Change participant Justine Nabwire teach a pupil how to was hands
SENSITISATION: Lifebuoy soap ambassador Janet Mbugua and Heroes for Change participant Justine Nabwire teach a pupil how to was hands
Image: COURTESY

The burden of unpaid care work for women such as cooking, cleaning, going to the market or taking care of the sick may increase their risk of contracting coronavirus. 

A World Health Organization report on addressing sex and gender during epidemics shows gender influences the patterns of exposure to infectious agents and the treatment.

 "Typical gender roles can influence where men and women spend their time, and the infectious agents they come into contact with, as well as the nature of exposure, its the frequency and its intensity," the report says. 

 

Having to balance between taking care of the children, household errands and work has always been a challenge and for Wanjiru, coronavirus has made everything more difficult.

Wanjiru, a mother of two who lives in Githurai, takes the children to work with her after schools were closed to curb the spread of the virus.

The M-Pesa agent is a single mother of children aged 11 and seven months. They live in a small one-room house with her sister.

"Things are getting more difficult because I had not planned for the eldest one to be home. I cannot afford to hire a maid or leave them home by themselves," she said.

The 30-year-old mother who struggles to purchase diapers for her second child needs to buy sanitisers to use on the go.

"Water is also a problem and the area we live in is very crowded. All we can do is hope," she said.

A few kilometers away in Kahawa, Mary is planning to skip work and head to the supermarket to shop for dwindling supplies.

 

The mother of three states she thought she had enough supplies but when she properly arranged everything, she realised she was wrong.

"I wanted everything to be in order and that's when I realised everything was less than what I expected. For example, we only have four rolls of tissue left but I thought we had the ten pack," she said.

Mary adds the perishability of some items such as tomatoes will also force her to constantly go to the market.

"The kids are home from school, something we had not planned for, so now I need to figure out a schedule. I'm looking for a house manager and they need to be homeschooled and supervised after we get home from work," she said.

"It's difficult but we are adjusting."

The latest Oxfam report states where women will spend about five hours on unpaid care work daily, men spend just one. 

Around the world, women also make up the majority of healthcare workers, most of them occupying nursing roles which place them on the frontline of efforts to combat and contain the coronavirus. 

According to the International Labour Organization, women make up the largest part of part-time and informal workers around the world. 

The World Bank states that despite unpaid care work contributing to about 13 per cent of global GDP, it remains largely invisible, unrecognized and absent from public policies. 

Edited by Henry Makori