Redefining ‘normal’ in a post-COVID world

13 July 2020

In this time of COVID-19, there is no question that many of us now lead very different lives than what we are used to. From issues of mass job loss, increased mental health problems, and financial instability, it is evident the virus has affected us all in more ways than one.

But as we begin to move towards a familiar sense of living, it is important that we re-evaluate the things we used to consider ‘normal’, so that we can achieve a more inclusive and sustainable future. Following this lockdown, we must rally for change that encourages gender equity in the workplace and lobby for policies that accelerate women’s participation in the workforce. To begin, we have identified four key areas that we believe need reform and that will assist us in achieving a more just and equal post-COVID world.

Normalise flexible working arrangements for both men and women.

At YWCA Canberra, we find the value in advocating for flexible work arrangements for both men and women, and especially those with carer roles. By drawing on Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) standards of flexible work, we offer part-time roles (even at high levels), paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers, and designated time for breastfeeding. According to a 2019 WGEA report, 70% of workplaces have a flexible work policy in place, yet only 2% have set targets for men’s engagement in flexible work. This division perpetuates stereotypes and takes away valuable opportunities from men to spend time with their children during their formative years.

Additionally, by encouraging men to access paid parental leave, women are able to continue their time in the workforce. This, in turn, consolidates their workplace performance and can encourage them to apply for promotions and leadership positions. Furthermore, it also helps to improve women’s long-term financial gains, by increasing their superannuation.

Childcare is essential

Just like other essential services such as healthcare, transportation and even supermarkets, childcare holds a very clear and distinctive role in our society. Unlike other sectors, however, childcare is significantly under-valued and is often perceived as less important compared to male-dominated industries such as construction and defence.

Despite these views, early childhood education and care continues to play a vital role in our society through fostering children’s growth and development. In conjunction with the role that it plays in helping parents retain and look for work, childcare also play a vital role in helping children develop fundamental cognitive and social skills. To limit a child’s attendance from childcare can deprive them of valuable learning opportunities which could be disadvantageous to their development and experience when entering primary school.

The pandemic of DV will outlast corona

For many families, self-isolation has become an opportunity to enjoy quality time with loved ones. While this may be great to some, it is important to keep in mind that the home is also one of the most dangerous places for women and children at risk of domestic and family violence.

According to a report conducted by Women’s Safety NSW during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, frontline domestic violence workers reported an increase in client numbers from 41% to 50% in the first week of April. In a survey conducted by Monash University, it was also found almost 60 per cent of practitioners said the pandemic had increased the frequency of violence against women. Due to this, it is important that we continue to fund specialist support programs and emergency housing services for women and their children at threat of DFV. Although COVID-19 has certainly exacerbated the issue of DFV, there is no denying that domestic and family violence will continue to exist well after this virus is over.

At YWCA Canberra, we are seeing an increase in inquiries related to housing support and have been working collaboratively with women’s specialist services to help families out during the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, we have also been lobbying for increased support for our services from the ACT Government.

Ending homelessness is possible

Drawing on the efforts the South Australian government accommodating 400 homeless people in hotels during the coronavirus pandemic, it is paramount we see a massive shift in our government’s strategy towards ending homelessness. Although this is just a temporary fix, it has given the Australian government the opportunity to reassess their priorities and create a direct initiative towards homelessness reform and prevention.

But while this has been great progress for the homelessness community, it also sheds light on the severity of the issue in Australia, especially during times of crisis. If there is anything to learn from living through this pandemic, is that homelessness is not an intractable social problem, but rather an issue that can be solved through government policy that is innovative and courageous and which prioritises a housing first response.

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