ACT Women’s experiences during COVID-19 – what we heard

Of the 540+ women who responded to the survey, 29.2% were aged between 35-44 years of age, 21.8% were aged 45-54 years, 18.8%  were 25-34 years, 12.2% were 65 years or older, 3.3% were 18-24 years, and 0.4% identified as being 18 years or younger.

The vast majority of our respondents were still working. When describing their current employment and caregiving situation, 33% of respondents currently had a job and were working from home, another 17.7% of women were working from home while also caring for their children, and 22.5% were still working from their place of employment.  Only 2.19% of respondents were not working but caring for children. Retirees made up 11.4% of respondents – some had retired prior to COVID-19 but others due to the current COVID-19 situation.

Around 5% of the women reported not working due to factors such as losing their job due to COVID-19, having their jobs put on hold because of COVID-19, experiencing reduced hours of being asked to take leave, being older or having chronic conditions who could not work at their previous jobs because they were ‘at risk’, or having to stop work to look after their children. Several women were business owners/self employed who had no work due to the COVID-19 impacts. And we heard from a very small number of students some who were still continuing their study online and others whose courses had been suspended due to COVID19.

When asked about their current living and family arrangements, the majority of women who responded (43.3%) were living with a partner and their children, or living with just their partner (22.2%), while 13.9% reported living alone. And 6.2% were living on their own with their children. Others were in shared accommodation with non-family members (3.7%), or living with parents 2.4%) or with adult children (1.4%).

Women were asked to identify the issues that were causing them the most concern at the moment due to COVID-19 and self-isolation, and were given the option to select as many issues as they felt applied to them.

55.2% of women identified that being able to stay socially connected with family and friends was a major concern for them, and 35.1% identified being unable to socialise beyond family members as causing them concern.

In relation to health and wellbeing, 51.6% identified concern about taking care of their own health and wellbeing, and 40.8% indicated concern about taking care of the health and wellbeing of their family. And a significant number of women indicated that they had concerns about the impact of COVID-19 and self-isolation on their ability to maintain regular physical activity (39.8%) as well as many having concerns about the impact on their mental health (36.6%).

34.2% identified juggling their work with caring for others at home as an issue of concern, and 24.6% identified having to educate their children from home as causing them concern.

To gain perspective of how women in the ACT and surrounding regions have directly been affected or come into contact with coronavirus (COVID-19) we asked them if they had either been diagnosed with COVID-19 themselves or someone they know had received a positive diagnosis. 86.2% of the women who responded to this question indicated that they have not had COVID-19 themselves nor did they know anyone who has contracted the virus. Of the total responses, 5.3% of the women had been tested for COVID-19 but had returned a negative result, while only one woman had been treated in hospital for complications with COVID-19.

When asked about friends or family who had been affected by COVID-19, 8.3% of respondents indicated that they knew of someone (who did not live with them) who had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

We asked in our final question in the survey if there was anything else respondents wanted us to know – and over 45% provided additional comments.  The main themes from those comments related overwhelmingly to the impacts that the COVID-19 self isolation and expectations had had on women’s mental health, the significant burden that women experienced from the arrangements that were put in place, and the burden from homeschooling.  The following quotes from a few of the women are examples of what we heard from so many:

The saying is that you can do it all – just not all at the same time. But that is exactly what we (and mostly women) are being asked to do right now.

 Women bear a heavier load than men in balancing the home, children, work and everything in between.   Working at home, homeschooling the children and keeping house all under the same roof is hard.  There is no escape from the three most stressful situations.

 Expectation on women in the workforce is that we are full time employees (business as usual), educators (responsible for our children’s educational achievements), carers for extended family …. and also required to maintain our own wellbeing in conjunction with all of this.

 I am struggling a lot with trying to support children and be a good employee. It is impossible and the struggle to do so impacts my mental health and my attitude to my workplace (which is amazing and understanding) yet still I feel terrible because there is soooo much more work to do and can’t get it done because my children need support to learn, and support to live. I am beginning to feel like a failure at everything. It is unrealistic to expect this of parents, and solo parents in particular!