As various states like Lagos, Rivers and the FCT relax their stay-at-home orders and businesses call back their workers, families across the nation are finding themselves facing an unforeseen challenge: “how can working mothers without live-in nannies go back to work as most schools and daycare facilities still remain closed?” And if they can’t go back to work now, how will employers make provisions so they eventually can return to their jobs?
Before COVID-19, the job security and job protection policies in the Nigerian private sector were so fragile that a stiff wind could have blown it over. Now we’ve got this tornado that has completely shattered it.
We’re just a few months into the pandemic, but it’s obvious that COVID-19 will make things worse for working parents who relied on schools and daycare centers for childcare, as they may struggle to return to the workforce pending when schools are open.
Even in households where both parents work full-time, women tend to take on more childcare responsibilities — especially when the kids are young. So, if families have to choose which parent cuts back on work to stay home with kids while schools are closed, gender pay-gaps and societal norms may make women the more obvious choice.
This crisis underscores the importance of having women serve in senior leadership roles in organizations and in government, as they are much more likely to understand, experience, and normalize the immense burden that closing schools causes for working women.
Thankfully, some countries have taken aggressive steps to help parents in this unprecedented moment. For instance, Italy has offered families €600 ($650) to offset babysitting costs. Australia is paying to keep 13,000 childcare centers open and allowing working parents to use them for free. Norway and Denmark permitted elementary schools and daycares to safely reopen in April.
Now, while these solutions are not easily applicable in Nigeria, there are some alternative ways the government and the private sector could give working moms (and working dads) the support that they need during this pandemic:
- The Senate can immediately pass the proposed Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill 2020, which was recently passed by the House of Representative. This Bill, among other things, seeks to give temporary relief / palliatives to employers who do not retrench their staff due to the slow down in economic activities during the pandemic.
- The Legislative can also consider enacting gender responsive economic and social legislations that require employers to provide emergency family-leave benefits in sectors where women are heavily represented (eg., tourism, teaching, retail, restaurants, hospitality, etc)
- Beyond this, the whole range of economic policies by the Nigerian government – for both immediate response and long-term recovery – need to be designed and implemented with a gender lens. It is important that any palliatives/financial interventions to citizens must incorporate a gender lens and specifically target women. Put cash in women’s hands!!
- Bailouts and support measures by the government should not only assist large and medium-sized enterprises, but also micro and small businesses, as well as formal and informal sectors, where women entrepreneurs are relatively more represented. Additionally, tax authorities must introduce measures to alleviate the tax burden on women owned businesses.
- Employers could roll-out policies that introduce paid reductions in working time work-sharing for employees with childcare responsibilities. Such that working parents may be provided paid time off at up to two-thirds their salaries during school closures, unpaid time off during school closures, or flexible (paid) working hours during school closures. Employers can also temporarily give options for working parents to apply for their paid annual leave during the period of school closures.
- Companies could also offer safe and appropriate ‘limited’ on-site childcare options at work. Advisably, employers should treat this moment as a community challenge rather than an individual woman’s problem to solve in the middle of the night. You will be repaid in loyalty, retention of the best talent, and the increased productivity that working mothers, and a diverse and inclusive workplace, bring. Losing skilled, hardworking working parents because of a temporary situation is expensive and short-sighted. It will be far better to discuss with each person what they need to get by in the short term until the pandemic passes.
Intentionally, steps are needed to ensure that the COVID-19 pandemic does not reverse the gender equality progress achieved in recent decades, especially with regard to women’s participation in the labor force. Support provided to working mothers and momprenuers now will have tangible impacts later in the economy.
The current situation provides a chance to disrupt gender stereotypes, change traditional narratives, and show that leadership and decision-making, household chores, and caring for and teaching children can and should be shared responsibilities.
Lastly, if you and your spouse earn equal pay at your various jobs but one of you has to give up your job to care for the kids and home-school due to the COVID-19 school closures, who will it be? Mom or Dad? Why?