The feminist issues round "staying home"

Submitted by AWL on 18 March, 2020 - 10:56 Author: Katy Dollar
Women's Fightback

More and more of us will be advised or forced to stay home for whole periods, and to stay home longer each week even when we are going to work.

We must remember that for many women and children, staying home comes with additional dangers of its own.

In the 2015 Ebola outbreak when Sierra Leone shut schools, girls removed from school took on care work and were also at heightened risk of sexual abuse and teen pregnancy. Activist reports and police statistics both report a spike in domestic violence in Wuhan as a result of strict curfews.

The New York public school system has announced school closures but tried to delay as long as possible because of associated risks, as one New York City public school student in every ten has experienced homelessness in the past year, and many of those children and others rely on their schools to provide meals.

We know “holiday hunger” is an issue with existing school holiday closures. Three million children in Britain face health and social issues in the holidays because of lack of access to free school meals.

Those children most at risk of hunger during the holidays may also suffer from social isolation, loneliness, and inactivity.

If schools are to close, or partially close, which may be necessary to stop the spread of infection, we must ensure that we do all we can to mitigate against the risks that brings to parents and their children. The government must fund local councils to provide food, social care, domestic violence and homelessness support.

It seems very likely that school closures will happen soon, as they have in other countries.

Already, according to government figures, one grandparent in five, in the UK, spends at least ten hours a week looking after grandchildren. At the same time older people are being warned against sustained contact with children. This is because older people are more vulnerable to complications associated with Covid-19, and small children will often show relatively few symptoms and spend a lot of time touching and licking things and people.

Given the underlying sexist division of care and other domestic work, women are more likely to have to stay at home to care for children than their male partners. They are also far more likely to be single parents.

As women have entered the waged workforce en masse in the 20th and 21st centuries, we are still expected to do a disproportionate amount of care and domestic work.

Unpaid domestic work is supplemented by paid care work, paid for either by the state or families themselves. Schools, childminders, nurseries, care homes all take some of the burden of social reproduction.

The labour movement must insist on public resources being mobilised for socially-provided care, organised under the safest possible conditions, to avoid this epidemic bearing down with a double weight on women and children.

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