Melbourne, Australia – When the world’s longest shutdown began in her hometown in March 2020, Shemsiya Waritu knew she had a challenge.
With her husband abroad, she would have to deal with the burden not only for work and daily homework for four children but also homeschooling.
An Oromo woman from Ethiopia with little schooling herself and few formal English skills, she told Al Jazeera that she was “actually nervous”.
“I do not have the skills to teach them,” she said. “Even if I had the ability to support them, I would not be able to support them because I have to perform other tasks.”
Shemsiya, who has lived in Melbourne since 1995, told Al Jazeera that she reflected on her roots in a large family with hectic, hard-working parents, where it is each child’s responsibility to take care of siblings younger than them.
“So then I just said to myself, ‘How did we survive as Africans? “What kind of help did we get when we had to do homework?” I’ll make sure each of them helps each other. ”
She encouraged all her Australian-born children to help the next youngest with their schooling and homework.
“At home, we have to do it because it’s our responsibility – that’s how we support our parents. Because they would be out trying to support us. So our responsibility [as children] is to take care of each other. We have to babysit each other, no doubt. ”
While Shemsiya admits that she was fortunate enough to receive help from the school, she also said that the experience of homeschooling without sufficient literacy and computer skills was shared by many in African Australian society.
“When I panicked, I thought of so many families – especially newcomers – who do not speak English to even tell teachers ‘yes, I need help in these areas,'” she told Al Jazeera.
She adds that even though she is married and lucky enough to receive support from her husband when he returned, the challenges were challenged for many single mothers in the migrant community.
“I can not imagine what many families had to go through.”
Shemsiya is one of thousands of women in Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, who have been under enormous pressure through a series of six suspensions that will have been extended to a cumulative 267 days when it begins to lift on October 26.
The restrictions – some of the toughest in the world – have included long-term school closures, curfews at 9pm and a requirement for people to stay within 5km of their home for one hour a day during which they were allowed to exercise.
All companies have closed except for grocery stores and other important services, and care facilities such as childcare have also been closed.
This has meant that all home education and preschool child care has had to take place within the home, within a strict and tightly controlled environment of social isolation.
Tanja Kovac, CEO of Gender Equity Victoria, told Al Jazeera that although the experience of lockdown affected all Victorians, “the effects have been gender-specific”.
She says that not only has there been a huge pressure on mothers but also on industries that use a high proportion of women-with women-dominated companies such as salons, childcare, hairdressers and beauty salons forced to close.
“That’s the point [women have] lost jobs, they have had financial challenges in their homes, they have had to depend on government subsidies and support, says Kovac.
Conversely, male-dominated industries as a construction industry have primarily remained open, although there have been signs of high transmission rates for COVID-19. A two-week closure and vaccine mandate imposed on builders last month led to violent protests.
The pressure on what Kovac describes as the “deeply feminized” important service workforce for nurses, elderly care and educators has also intensified during the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has revealed massive gender gaps in society,” Kovac said. “One of the biggest ways to do that was that it clearly showed that a large part of our important service workforce is made up of women and that most of these roles are significantly underpaid.”
Kovac – whose organization recently released a report documenting the experiences of migrant and refugee women – says that the pressure on women in these communities has been even greater.
“Many immigrant women and refugee women did not qualify for government subsidies because they were excluded from visas and other reasons from having access to that support,” Kovac told Al Jazeera. “Many of them remained and left in very dangerous financial positions.”
There were also additional lock-in restrictions for public housing apartments, with some complexes closed.
Distinguishing oneself from certain residential areas, which are largely home to migrants and refugees, not only increased the pressure on those living there but was seized by Australia’s right-wing politicians. Pauline Hanson, who leads the One Nation party, attacked the people who lived in the affected tower blocks as “alcoholics” and “drug addicts” who should have learned to speak English before coming to Australia.
Need for diversity
The suspensions were found by the Victorian ombudsman to be a violation of human rights.
Debra Parkinson, Head of Gender and Disaster Australia, says her studies on natural disasters – including Australian forest fires – reveal that the impact of such incidents on women is often more extreme than on men.
This includes an increase in domestic violence, where the stress of job loss, rising unemployment, poverty and drug and alcohol abuse “has a flow effect on violence against women.”
While violence against women has increased worldwide during the pandemic, Parkinson says that Melbourne’s long-term suspension meant that women became more vulnerable by potentially being locked in the house by a perpetrator.
“And the usual support they may have had – like a large family or neighbors, or even formal support – has really been affected by COVID,” she said.
But the experience of the pandemic – which is considered a natural disaster – provides an opportunity to learn and make changes in disaster response for the future.
“We must have more different voices there [including] women and LGBTIQ people who take the decision-making, visible roles, says Parkinson.
“These people are really involved in decision making. And I’m not just talking about women, but about women with gender skills. ”
The Victorian Minister for Women and the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Gabrielle Williams, agrees that the effects of the pandemic have been gendered.
“It is clear that women around the world have been significantly and disproportionately affected by COVID-19, with women bearing even more of the unpaid care responsibilities while being hit hardest by the pandemic’s economic consequences,” she told Al Jazeera.
In response to the increase in domestic violence, Williams says the government has increased the response to domestic violence services, including increased online and telephone help and identified domestic violence in test sites and health services.
“We know that domestic violence can occur in any society, and access to culturally and linguistically appropriate support is crucial – that’s why we invest in specialist services, programs and support services,” she said.
In March this year, Victoria became the first Australian state to introduce a gender equality law, which aims to address the structural inequalities that women experience, both economically and socially.
When the shutdown ended, Shemsiya told Al Jazeera that although she feels happy for the support from her children’s school and the success of her African homeschooling project, she also hopes the government will reach out to migrant and refugee families to ask what may be learned. of the lockdown experience.
“I can hear a lot of struggle, many complaints in many families,” she said. “It is very important to interview families and find out what happened. The pressure is not only on parents, it is also on children. ”