Working from home makes men increasingly see and appreciate the importance of the household and tutoring tasks that women have been providing and they do their bit as well. Women will be the change agents we need at this time of global pandemic crisis. Be it at politics, the office or in their neighbourhoods.
H.E. Margriet Vonno, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Singapore and Brunei shares her views with AsiaBizToday on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women and the movement towards gender equality.
Q. In what ways do you think that the Lockdown was equal and unequal when it comes to Gender Equality at work?
At the Netherlands Embassy in Singapore, we already offered the opportunity for all staff to work from home before Covid-19 entered Singapore. This practice helped us to transition smoothly to a full-time working from home life. What we do miss is really seeing each other in person and at social gatherings such as our office laksa lunches on Fridays, regardless of our gender or nationality.
When we take a broader view, we must recognize that when we discuss inequality, the global lockdowns have disproportionately affected the poor, minorities, the disadvantaged, those with temporary contracts. And yes, that often means women.
Q. According to you, how has this pandemic affected the course of the Gender Equality movement, and how does working from home impact women?
The health effects of Covid-19 have a disproportionate impact on men: they suffer the severest symptoms and highest death rates. Having recognized that, globally the social effects disproportionally affect women: the majority of front-line health-care workers are female (around 70%); many women work in the informal economy and are on their own if their means of income dwindle. The majority of the caregivers at home and in our community are women. While husbands and wives try to share the burden of home schooling and house chores during lockdowns, the largest share continues to rest on women’s shoulders. And regrettably, during the lockdowns, incidents of violence against women are on the rise all over the world.
Looking at it from the positive side, working from home makes men increasingly see and appreciate the importance of the household tasks and tutoring tasks that women have been providing and they do their bit as well.
Q. Do you think this pandemic will test organizations’ resolve in achieving Gender Equality?
International organizations such as UNWOMEN and Women Deliver continue to highlight the fact that it is smart to invest in women. It’s better for the overall performance of companies and, while it helps to make a society more all-inclusive, women tend to invest a larger part of their income in the education of their children and well-being of their families.
Closer to home, Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands serves as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development. She encourages financial organizations to make their services accessible to women e.g. who start their own businesses. Helping women to help themselves is the most sustainable economic path forward.
In the Netherlands itself, our Ambassador for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Ambassador Mette Gonggrijp, highlights internationally systemic inequalities such as the gender data gap and gender based violence.
Personally, I will ensure my staff to have the flexibility in their working hours and working place. This will ensure we all have a better work-life balance, not only the working mums, and combine the job we love with the family we love.
Q. What according to you is the way forward?
I believe we will unite even more than before. We are facing a global pandemic and we need to come together to beat this.
I am foremost an optimist at heart, and an activist. So, we will continue to address the challenges women face. Women will be the change agents we need at this time. Be it at politics, the office or in their neighbourhoods. I have seen the resilience of the health-care workers. I often come to hospitals for my cancer treatment. Most professionals I meet are also mothers or caregivers and juggle different aspects of their life. Their resilience inspires me.
Mark your calendars. November 25 is the international day to highlight violence against women and children. Every year I participate in a campaign ‘Orange the World’ to emphasize that you can make a difference if you do not look away from signs of maltreatment of women of children. Your readers should join.