Covid-19 pushes women to bring home the bacon
Joan Mwangi*, a public relations consultant, busies herself on her laptop as she strives to beat a deadline for a project she is working on. Her two-year-old son plays with his toys next to her.
Once in a while, he interrupts her, demanding for attention. She takes break to attend to him and to other household chores.
The last one year has not been easy for Joan. She lost her job in July last year and her husband, who worked in a local bank, had lost his on April the same year as Covid-19 raged the country.
While her husband just sat in the house applying for jobs, Joan marketed herself as a consultant and started getting contracts and projects here and there.
“My husband had just taken the job. So, his redundancy package was just two months’ pay.
Though I got a better send-off package, (one month’s salary in lieu of notice and severance payment at the rate of 15 days’ pay for each year of service plus pension) the money I got from my eight years of working didn’t amount to much because I didn’t have a good salary,” she says.
Working while doing house chores
Gender pay gap is real in the country with a 2017 World Economic Forum report showing that a Kenyan woman is paid Sh55 for every Sh100 paid to a man for doing a similar job.
“For the first few months after we were sent packing, we spent our pay package. But money was running out, and I had to act first.
I decided to self- employ. We had to move from a four bedroomed house in Buru Buru to a two-bedroomed one in Donholm Nairobi.
I relieved my housegirl and took over domestic chores even as I work,” she shares sadly. Joan has had to put extra hours to take care of the children and do chores.
“My husband is a typical traditional man when it comes to chores. He says it’s a woman thing.
Yet when it comes to provision, why can’t he man up like the traditional man he is?” poses Joan.
According to Covid-19 Gender Assessment report 2020, although the pandemic generally increased the time individuals spent on both unpaid care and domestic work, women are disproportionately affeced.
The increase was higher for unpaid care work related to children, such as minding children at 40 per cent for women and 37 per cent for men; teaching children at 53 per cent for women and 15 per cent for men; and caring for children at 41 per cent for women and 39 per cent for men.
“I do my part, and he’s reneged on his. I didn’t sign up to be a breadwinner. Now, I can’t see the future of this marriage,” she says.
Joan’s case is not a rare one. Jacinta Mutiso who hails from Mathare slums has been providing for her family of five through casual labour.
Her husband, who worked as a security guard lost his job in May 2020.
“I wash people’s clothes to make ends meet. As for my husband, he wakes up early in the morning and leaves kutafuta kazi ya mjengo, (looking for a job at construction sites) but he comes home empty-handed saying he couldn’t get any. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know,” she shares.
Beatrice Nderitu, a psychologist, says Covid-19 has seen many homes make drastic changes in their family dynamics.
“We are in the 21st century where more and more women were sharing bills even before the pandemic hit.
But now, it has forced some wives to take on the role of keeping the family afloat financially,” she says.
In situations like these, Nderitu says the power balance in the family shifts as roles are reversed.
When a husband becomes financially dependent on his wife, it often leaves her feeling resentful. Men, meanwhile, feel emasculated and powerless.
“That same ambition and desire for power that drives men to be successful also exists in women who are successful.
Many successful men bring those same characteristics home and apply it to managing their families.
Successful women will do the same, but they face the challenge of their men feeling emasculated,” she explains.
Mohammed Odhiambo, a resident of Kibera slums concurs. The 55-year-old father of four and grandfather to three is worried that he has not been able to give his family the best since Covid-19 struck.
Though they live in a humble abode, he always ensured his family never lacked basic needs.
But since he lost his job as a security guard last year, things have never been the same.
“I believe in providing the best for my children for their better future. That is why my key interest has been in educating my children.
My last born child is in Form Two at Kisumu Girls High School. My third born sat for his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education this year and managed to get a C+ grade.
I’m worried about him because I would want him to go to university and pursue a course in remote sensing, which is his dream job.
Life in the slums is tricky because you want to engage your children before they become desperate and succumb to peer pressure, join crime or get pregnant, for girls,” he says.
Mohammed skills in carpentry have come in handy during this time. “Once in a while, I get some offers, either to repair furniture or make new ones. But the job is unpredictable.
The last time I got a job was a month ago,” he says. His wife had to go back to the village in Siaya where she is doing some small-scale farming. She sends them food when there is harvest, Mohammed says.
The psychologist says women are flexible and adapt to life changes faster than men.
“What men need to do is to learn new strategies to deal with the imbalance or face seeing their marriage falling apart,” she adds.
Additionally, she advises people who plan to get married to always be ready for any eventuality.
“Life has become so unpredictable. Before getting married, discuss real issues with your partner.
What happens if a man is not able to provide? What happens for example if a woman cannot do chores, among other issues?” she poses.