By Lies Marcoes
For seven months now, the microscopic coronavirus has forced us to stop outdoor activities, work activities or studying. Morning rush hour has been sorely missed by some of us and many can no longer socialize or meet clients.
Suddenly, we have to adapt to these changes. Our lives now center on “home” and its “manager,” which is normatively associated with women.
For those women who were already spending their days at home, working as homemakers, in these past seven months they have been forced to take on new jobs that were previously entrusted to others: to the state or semi-state institutions, the private sector, non-state entities, the community or the market.
Now, without warning, they have had to take over all these roles with virtually no preparation, without skills. They have to create a sense of comfort in the home, which has suddenly become an office, school, madrasah (Islamic school), prayer hall, Sunday school, a mini-church, playground, restaurant, public restroom, a place to receive basic healthcare services, a place for recreation and even a facility for relaxation like a massage parlor.
COVID-19 has forced us to change, but the change is neither familiar nor neutral. For certain income brackets, the economic change may not be felt too severely, as there are plenty of layers of fat left in their economic caloric reserves. But for many, this is a real disaster.
I will bet that there will be a sharp increase in requests for loans from soft credit schemes and loan sharks. In the past two months, my WhatsApp feed was not just filled with news about A and B, whom I knew were receiving medical treatment or going into isolation because of being infected with COVID-19 but also requests for financial assistance just to buy food.
But the most powerful change, which is rarely noticed because the tool to observe it is unclear or unavailable, is the change in women’s lives as homemakers. This applies not just to those affected by this “disaster” but also to middleincome housewives who are nor
mally assumed to be not under so much financial stress.
One of my seniors who is studying the issues of the elderly, Ibu Saparinah Sadli, sent me a WhatsApp message asking me to think: What are elderly women to do now? For seven months now they have not met their friends, have no group activities, have not left the house, and have not even seen their children and grandchildren. This will accelerate the onset of senility.
Many of these elderly ladies do not know how to use visual communication technology, and their adult children are busy with all their new duties, including managing their own kids who are studying from home. Imagine how it is for elderly women from poor families who live with their children and their families. Perhaps some of them have to take over some of the burden of house work from their daughters or daughters-inlaw because of the changes in the function of the home.
A middle-aged woman from a well-established family in Jakarta complains that her social activities have been disrupted. As a homemaker, she used to meet up with her friends and socialize but COVID-19 has stopped all this. For those who are suddenly solitary, this is almost unimaginable. Their existence lies not in themselves but in being with their community.
This is a genuine but nameless disaster, something not considered suitable to complain about. So don’t be surprised if we see a sharp increase in requests for divorce during this COVID-19 era.
It’s been like this for seven months, with no end in sight. I truly empathize with young women, elderly women and middle-aged women whose lives have been shaken by the COVID-19 earthquake. I’m even more concerned because state officials don’t seem to care, or even notice, since they lack the sensitivity tools needed to read these shocks.
Yet if the tools to read them were sensitive, families that have children in school should be provided with intensive guidance on how to be teachers at home. They should receive compensation for teachers’ salaries and school fees, because they pay taxes and as citizens are entitled to the products of “the land and waters and the wealth contained therein”, which is utilized for the greatest possible prosperity of the people, according to the Constitution.
Housewives who are wives of employees should receive compensation for cleaning, electricity, rental of work space and office stationery. Likewise for the elderly or the middle-aged; they need to have some way out of the dead ends they face because their activities are halted. After all, haven’t they always contributed to keeping the economy and society running?
It has been seven months, and no one knows how much longer things will be like this. Radical changes are needed in how we look at the problems of women — those who manage the household — which are caused by COVID-19.
Director of Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation