Ever since I started working from home (WFH) a couple of months ago, no less than twenty times a day each morning my kids would be heard calling “Mom.” The number would be tripled throughout the day. Never would I have thought that I would miss working in the office.
Since March 16, the government has appealed the public to study, work and pray from home in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. My workplace complied and all staff members were asked to practice social distancing in our day-to-day activities, including while working and conducting other activities.
When I received the information, I was grateful yet concerned. Grateful because I am one of the few women who enjoy the privilege of working from home. I realize that there are a lot of women out there for whom this is a luxury. But on the other hand I am worried, because to me working from home is myth. The fact is as reproductive labor, women will continue to be attached to their domestic roles. So to be 100 percent focused on office work at home is an incredible challenge.
The US-based global workforce management consultation company, Gallup Inc., conducted a survey of public’s opinion at the beginning of January 2020 to couples with careers. The results: women face 7 times more pressure in running domestic affairs, including child care. This result might have western bias, but as a woman and a working mom who lives in Indonesia, I feel that this finding is relevant.
Another study conducted locally by Diahhadi Setyonaluri from University of Indonesia affirms this. The study found that women who work in the Greater Jakarta area feel pressured and struggle to juggle the role a worker and a mother. Mothers don’t have the power to choose and it’s not rare that we find mothers being forced to leave their careers for their families.
The challenge for working moms amid this COVID-19 pandemic is even tougher. With schools being conducted online, daycare centers being closed, and people being told not to visit families many women have to bear even bigger pressure. When kids are in school, at least there is time for the mothers to do some things. Daycare centers is an alternative as is help from family.
Susceptibility to depression and the importance of empathy
Asides from the privilege that I have mentioned above, I share domestic roles with my husband. At the moment I have to be more tolerant because my spouse is continuing his education. On the other hand I feel quite lucky to have a household assistant who helps around. However, this would have been a different situation if we hadn’t communicated openly about what was happening. Our household assistant, for example, thought that we were staying at home for safety reasons because of COVID-19, and didn’t have to work. So in the beginning of the WFH policy, she spent a lot of time with her phone. But after communicating with her, she finally understood the current situation.
When empathy is strong within a family, depression can be avoided. Empathy can be taught to kids from an early age. Amid WFH and learning from home, family members need to understand each of their roles. My pre-teen eldest child can be more independent in doing schoolwork. Once in a while my eldest also takes the initiative to take care of the sibling.
The place where a mother works plays an important role in the staffs’ productivity. It’s crucial to maintain mental health, social-psychological condition of the workers, appreciation, and sufficient infrastructure during the WFH policy. If those things cannot be fulfilled by the employers, then wherever the woman works – whether in the office or at home – productivity is just a load of nonsense.
Working from home, which is still class-biased, cannot fully be accessed by everyone, but we would still like to see women achieving their best in their careers. We want to see women having equal opportunities at work. We are still fighting to achieve equality for women to reach their dreams and to have their voices heard in public spaces.
Currently working mothers are burdened by their domestic roles, and we all need to do something to address this culturally and systematically. The COVID-19 pandemic may have provided a good momentum to show that domestic work is not only a woman’s thing, but is the responsibility of all genders. With the right infrastructure, working from home is an alternative work arrangement amidst heavy traffic and pollution, but what’s important is to create an equal and fair environment for women and all.
If help is needed for cases of violence against women and children, please contact Komnas Perempuan (021-3903963, [email protected]); Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Asosiasi Perempuan Indonesia untuk Keadilan/LBH APIK (021-87797289, WA: 0813-8882-2669, [email protected]). Click on the full list of service providers here.