“Rest! What is rest for a mom working in the corporate world?” Grenia Nalumansi laughs before she provides a glimpse into her life. She considers herself the pivot of her family and crucial axis of her workplace as a Public Relations Officer at a busy technology company in Kampala city.
The dilemma of Nalumansi is reflected in a book, Forget Having It All. Amy Westervelt, the author, says in her 2018 work, “We expect women to work like they do not have children and raise children as if they do not work.”
Remote work affords Nalumansi the flexibility to tend to both her corporate and domestic worlds before she goes into the underbelly of the arrangement.
“As a mom and a wife, working from home has afforded me a new-found flexibility. However, the moment my baby sees me, he helps himself to my presence and so does everyone else. They think my presence at home means I am at disposal to run house affairs and yet I am working remotely,” she explains.
Rest barely features on the list of priorities but she has found a way around balancing home care and working from home. There is a house help but when the night falls, her corporate shift commences.
“I work a lot through the night because the household is asleep and it enables me to concentrate. It is the time I catchup on the bulk of my deliverables at my job. During the day, domestic work tends to consume the bulk of my would-be working hours,” Nalumansi says.
More than ever, she advocates for the support of husbands in the domestic arena so that working women can meet their job targets. At the moment, it is one step at time in her household.
Retaining life and sources of income in the past year has been a reserve for those that can adapt fast. The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) latest analysis of the impact of Covid-19 pandemic revealed that as of April 1, 2020, social distancing and lockdown (partial or full) measures impacted nearly 81 per cent of the world’s labor force. That is equivalent to 2.7 billion workers.
As it often goes, vulnerable groups experience the brunt of catastrophes and it has been barely different for women. They work in areas that have been hit the hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic such as hospitality, food, education and the informal sector.
Unlike Nalumansi who retained her job when the pandemic hit, Shamim Akurut was not lucky at all. Three months after being recruited as an administrator in the education sector, the mother of three from the eastern district of Jinja was laid off her job. The lay-off came as a result of the lockdown imposed by government to reduce the spread of Covid-19 virus.
In the deep end, with mouths to feed and debts to pay, Akullo was in frantic search for a survival plan. The hunt for a new source of income led to a new discovery about her town. Namulemesa, a town in Jinja, lies kilometers from the city center. With the lockdown in place, the town that once depended on the delivery vans to replenish grocery stores with doughnuts, was then running out. Akullo took a chance and began making doughnuts, most of which she supplied to neighbors. With the support of entrepreneurs at The Innovation Village in Mbarara, she shared her challenges of building a business in the pandemic on zoom meetings every Sunday. The entrepreneurs raked in advice.
Fast forward, Akullo is a phoenix rising from the ashes. In the lockdown, her survival instinct turned her into a supplier of breakfast snacks throughout her village Namulemesa and the neighboring town. She is no longer doing business to simply survive or bide her time until she gets back into employment. She is not only self-employed, she has employed two people on her team and now her current problem is the dream problem of every entrepreneur which is, how can she meet the overwhelming demand? The goal currently is to build her bakery, From Me To You, so as to produce at mass scale.
But in between, there are other activities that she must ensure are done. “There is cooking, washing, taking care of children and the husband. “I have two children. All I have to do is plan my day well since I do not have a house help. Certainly, a day care would really smooth work for me,” Akullo narrates her story.
In all of these experiences, one factor glares against the background of the pandemic; the massive workload on the shoulders of women.
Under a patriarchal setting with inflexible gender roles, the participation of women in the labor force as providers, an area previously a reserve for men, has not freed them from the domestic work. Corporate women like Nalumansi are still beholden to their families as primary caretakers. Many women must juggle professional work alongside domestic work. The former is responsible for the career success of women. The latter is responsible for the survival of the family and women are expected to show up in both places with unwavering zest. The result of putting labor in two places eventually affects them in profound ways. This is either through burn out from a want of rest or stagnated career growth due to inability to commit fully.
The National Labor force survey 2016/2017 by Uganda Bureau of Statistics states that about nine in every ten females (88 per cent) were engaged in unpaid care work, compared to six in every ten males (64 per cent). There were more female youth and adults (about 95 per cent) engaged in unpaid care work than girls (81 per cent).
The practice of working from home has led more women to spend productive hours doing unpaid care work. Care work here means serving people and their well-being. It includes both personal care and care-related activities such as cooking, cleaning and washing clothes. All this is currently falling in the domain of women, corporate women and those in the informal sector alike.
Those that came before us said, “Man works from sun to sun but a woman’s work is never done.” As we watch our social landscape change due to the pandemic, it is necessary that we bring this conversation to the frontline when discussing women’s engagement in work, now and in the future. Otherwise, we risk losing out on women in the workforce as they are swallowed into the domestic setting under the canopy of remote work.
Stella Kiwanuka is a placement and employer engagement officer at ProInterns. ProInterns connects students and graduates in Uganda to internship placement and entry-level opportunities with leading organizations and impactful start-ups. She has a word on the alternatives working women can embrace.
“Many women are opting for remote work and multiple gigs than the traditional 9-5 job. If the pandemic did anything, it opened us to the possibilities around work. One way to support women is to provide them with internet access and co-work spaces like The Innovation Village which can be the corporate havens for them when they need room to work.”