2007 - 2020

What the Lockdown Means for Women in Scotland

Victoria McNulty on the gendered aspect of the coronavirus and the implications for coming out of lockdown for women in Scotland.

Upheaval caused by the current Covid-19 outbreak provides opportunity to imagine Scotland in a new era. Debates surrounding public transport, care work and family life are prevalent at every Scottish Government briefing. Still, these are cloaked in gender neutral rhetoric, when they in fact impact the lives of women dramatically.

In Scotland Social Care services run on the labour of women, with the SSSC suggesting 85% of registered workers are female. In areas like Early Learning and Childcare, this rises to 97%. These women look after the loved ones of Keyworkers during Lockdown and will continue to provide services that will support our society when it is finished. The Scottish Government’s Route Map out of Lockdown emphasised the importance returning Social Care to capacity as means of supporting vulnerable individuals. Yet, it has yet to receive uniformed guidance of how to proceed. undoubtably, based on the balance of registered staff, it is crucial that policy makers take the needs of women workers into consideration. Recent discussion about PPE in Social Care settings highlight how easily gender discrimination can occur via omission. National distribution only came to include these Social Care Services at the end of April, following Trade Union negotiations. When provision finally arrived, it was constructed to fit the generic male face with female workers experience poor coverage, marks and bruising. We must consider the needs of women in any consultation to protect this vital workforce.

Plans for post Lockdown education provision also pose a formidable barrier for women. Scottish schools will not start face to face lessons until August, with students attending part time to meet Social Distancing requirements. Women undertake most unpaid care work in Scotland, where pre-Lockdown, around 7 out of 10 women were in employment. If they are to return to work in the coming months, they will have to juggle paid employment with unpaid care and additional educational responsibilities, impacting their health and wellbeing, family life and the quality of learning for children. Additionally, the GTCS estimates around 93% of Primary teachers are women. How they are to balance full timetables with this increased family commitment is yet to be explained. The Scottish Government have acknowledged the importance of unpaid care, pledging an additional £19.2 million towards their existing Carers Allowance Supplement. Welcome as this may be, the personal burden of care is not simply financial, but social and emotional too. Moreover, this money does not apply to those undertaking childcare. In the absence of a clear framework to support female workers, decisions concerning flexibility will be left at the mercy of their employers, who historically have often failed to provide understanding for their female workforce.

Similar omissions are made concerning the restructure public transport. Lockdown conditions highlights a real need to reimagine transport in a more environmentally friendly capacity. However, planning must consider the divergence between male and female travel patterns. Women are slightly less likely to drive in Scotland, with 63% holding a license, compared to 73% of men. They also travel differently to accommodate their work and care responsibilities, with women making multiple short journeys in any given day, as opposed to travelling to one fixed employment location. Post Lockdown Scotland must see increased self travel to adhere to Social Distancing guidance, with walking, cycling and driving advised over public methods. This is not necessarily compatible with women’s lives, who could potentially be left juggling young children, prams, shopping, employment and caring duties, with no real means of reliable or local transport. If these women cannot work from home, which they often can’t, they will carry the added risk of infection commuting to employment. The Scottish Government’s Route Map again places onus on individual employers to stagger shift patterns to salve the impact on already inadequate public transport facilities, without any coherent plans to extend provision appropriately.

In Scotland 4 out of 5 incidents of Domestic Violence reported to police details male on female violence. While this is not the full story, 1 in 3 Scottish women experience such violence in their lifetime. For those, staying at home is puts their lives in danger. Before Lockdown, Scotland had made significant moves in legislating to tackle domestic violence, including the addition of cohesive control into law. The Covid-19 outbreak has seen a reduction in services, with initial stages of lock down showing less women reporting domestic incidents. As lockdown has progressed, a fuller picture emerged. Social isolation measures provide perpetrators a perfect cover and make it harder for women to seek help. Scottish Womens Aid have expressed serious concerns and in response, the Government pledged £1.35 million in funds to support. Yet, prevention is by far a more effective strategy than trying to undo the trauma of domestic abuse. Achieving this with Social Distancing measures in place appears problematic. Phase One of the Rout Map will see a return of services for vulnerable and at-risk individuals as an emergency measure. However, there must be a tailored, extended effort in prevention to fully tackle the situation.

When a society neglects to consider the needs of women it places them in danger. The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed additional pressure on all walks of life, but this is not felt equally. This ‘new normal’ requires more than simple survival. Informed changes and serious consideration to gender equality must be at the core of our decision making. This does not mean that we treat men and women as one in the same. They are not, and nor should they have to be. Where women’s life experiences differ from that of men’s, this must be acknowledged and accounted for to provide a fairer, post Lockdown Scotland.

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  1. Jo says:

    “When a society neglects to consider the needs of women it places them in danger.”

    When anyone wishes to assess a crisis like this only from the point of view of women, we’re in even more trouble.

    1. Lorna Campbell says:

      Jo; it is almost the norm not to consider the needs of women. I think that the author is saying that the needs of women have to fit round a norm that is male. That’s all. No one is suggesting that male needs are not being met in the same way because society itself is structured round male requirements. Nobody is suggesting that male needs should not be met.

      I came up against that myself when the WASPI issue came to light. I, with a large number of other women, were simply not even thought about. It was never about equalization for men and women on the pension structure, but about women’s specific needs and life balances being well and truly ignored. No one else was or ever has been asked to wait a full five to six years for their pension, past the date they expected to receive it. There was no phasing in as other EU countries managed, even though that had been considered earlier. It was a massive insult to these women, saying, basically, that they were not worthy of being considered at all; they were just women, and who gives a toss whether women lose out? Who cares? They won’t utter a cheep anyway. Well, they did utter a cheep. They were furious. When this was reported in the media, the torrents of abuse that met any kind of attempt to shed light on the plight of these women was disgusting. Misogyny was rife. To be absolutely honest, it came from some sections of the independence movement, too, and was the beginning of my own gradual alienation with the movement. I am still pro independence, but I have been deeply alienated by the way some men have reacted to this issue and others.

      Many in this group had worked all their lives, brought up children, then were looking after elderly relatives. This female age group is also prone to life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, so that their work was disrupted. Many were paying mortgages or financing their children in education. It is precisely because women do almost all of the caring work in society that: a) they are disregarded; b) their own needs are seldom met; and, c) economic considerations are seldom applied to them and their uniquely female needs. That’s all. Why that should be so alarming is a mystery. Why is it that female needs are such a huge burden when women are twisted out of shape to fit a male world that was never designed for them? Our society structures create the problem because of deep-rooted gender issues that never seem to be resolved. Surely that is a double burden? We are also the lowest paid, in most cases, too. So much is expected of us for so little, and, if we dare to protest, we are met with misogyny and “what about men?”. Come on. Women are 52% of the population. We are rather more than half the human race. I think we have a protest coming, don’t you? Of course we will all need to pull together to get through this, but, if at the end, and after Brexit, women are left out yet again, we will have something to say about it.

      1. Jo says:

        Hello Lorna and thank you for your reply.

        Totally with you on the WASPI issue. It has affected me too. Have been in a few spats on the Herald threads over it with some men insisting that “everybody knows” it’s only an extra eighteen months. (In fact, I’m sure you were involved too!) For me, it’s an extra six years. No notice given. I was stunned at how ill-informed some of the men were and how their argument was structured.

        On the article here, I’m on a very short fuse at the moment with everything that’s going on although lockdown wise I’m managing all right. Politics wise I’m just at the end of my tether with the despicable creatures masquerading as “journalists” in the MSM. I don’t know why Sturgeon doesn’t call a real social distanced press conference and take half of them out with something lethal! I don’t know how she stays calm. They are utter ********! In the movement itself I’m really concerned about what may be coming and the fallout. What a mess.

        I do know lots of people who aren’t managing the lockdown and many of those aren’t women. Financial situations are dire for them. The stress is just as severe despite being male. I think we really can’t make it all about gender. It’s had a massive impact right across the board. However long it’s going to go on I’m sure the suffering is going to be right across the genders and ages groups too.

      2. Jo says:

        Lorna

        Another example.

        Articles like this (predictably from one of the Guardian’s rabid feministas) really drive me nuts.

        https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/22/coronavirus-me-call-shots-women-cautious-government

        It’s Opinion, obviously, but, for the writer it is solid fact. In my own opinion it is saturated in resentment towards men all the way through and basically asserts that the entire world would be perfect if only women were in charge. That, frankly, is just tosh. (Hillary Clinton was a power-crazy lunatic and more besides. I rest my case.)

        The other infuriating thing in the article is that she gives examples of great (female) leadership and specifically mentions New Zealand and Taiwan in comparison to Westminster while utterly ignoring Sturgeon’s existence. But then, while Sturgeon is female, for any Guardian feminists, that suddenly doesn’t count because she’s SNP!

        I’ve worked with women and men throughout my life. I’ve worked for both men and women bosses too and, honestly, the most vicious bullying I ever witnessed was done by women, mostly to other women.

        In the interests of balance I’ve worked with great male and female colleagues and bosses too. I just despair of the whole gender war business. It seems to occupy the minds of so many women, particularly those in the Guardian! I believe passionately in equality. I part company with those women who don’t want that, they want supremacy…they want what men had. The hypocrisy is disappointing.

        Anyhoo, that’s my wee rant!

        1. Jo says:

          Oh, and since it was the Guardian….. comments were disabled so nobody got to talk back to her!

    2. I dont think that’s what the author is doing. She has laid out in some detail the sectors where women predominate and the areas where the covid experience effects different genders very differently. Why would you have a problem with that?

  2. Blair says:

    I agree. Jo, Lorna & Editor. I believe we have a very large problem which will not be resolved unless our UK society restructures how we govern ourselves. Indyref & BREXIT have divided opinions preventing real change.
    Our problems are global and will get worse because all we can do is limited by inherent design flaws: the good news is that we have the technology Today to enable us to to do things differently from past generations. We have discovered our limitations against the power of nature and historical knowledge of both good and evil restricting life.
    Covid-19 virus has given us the chance to reflect on past failures and an opportunity to reverse our destructive way. As a society we will need to change the way we are governed to ensure a proper balance of power. Scotland has been blessed with many resources. Our greatest resource is our ability to conceive. At present the SNP have limited power but that can change by increasing the number of MP’s we have by placing prospective candidates in all UK constituencies asap.
    Our common home, planet Earth is being destroyed, it’s now time to work together and give future generations spaces to make our world a fairer place. – Project Christina.

  3. Robert says:

    Point well made about the different transport needs of women. There’s a lot of information on this in Caroline Criado Perez “Invisible Women”.
    Here’s a suggestion: offer carers with young children (primarily women) grants to buy or lease cargo bikes. These little beauties are the quickest and most sustainable way to get around town for anyone with kids and/or shopping. There are already grants available for community organizations but they should be available to families, too.

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