“Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.” – Barbara Kingsolver, author
We can all agree this past Sunday was not a typical Mother’s Day. COVID-19 kept some of us from celebrating with our mothers or mother figures in person. More significantly, mothers are experiencing a unique set of struggles during this pandemic. While the economy and whirr of city activity may have slowed down, COVID-19 has meant most mothers have had more responsibilities to manage and new problems and pressures to navigate.
In normal times, women – particularly mothers – disproportionately shoulder the majority of caregiving responsibilities, household chores and emotional labour. The physical, mental and financial toll of these duties is well documented. At times of crisis and uncertainty however, this responsibility is multiplied and so is the impact that it has on the physical and mental health of mothers, female caregivers and guardians.
COVID-19 has created and exacerbated mental health issues. A recent study found that women are more likely than men to suffer coronavirus related stress or worry and a negative impact on their mental health. For mothers of children under 18, almost 60% said their mental health has gotten worse because of the pandemic.
While these issues may be universal, the pandemic has exposed and aggravated inequalities everywhere. It is essential that we recognise and pay tribute to the diversity of experiences among mothers and mother figures in this city.
Mothers from ethnic minority backgrounds are amongst the most vulnerable in Hong Kong, facing the ‘double discrimination’ of race and gender. Many of these families were quickly and unexpectedly jobless, with no safety net, facing daily hunger in one of the world’s richest financial centres.
Asylum seekers are not eligible for Government COVID-19 financial support or masks; in the face of rising prices on daily necessities, many mothers in this community find themselves wondering how they will be able to provide for their families in the coming months.
Single mothers far outnumber single fathers and earn less than the average income. Already disproportionately below the poverty line, they will have less of a safety net to fall back on. Sectors adversely impacted by COVID-19 are primarily female dominated, and with over a third of single mothers working in the retail sector, they will be at high risk of unemployment.
There are also silver linings to being a mother during a pandemic. Many mothers appreciate the extra family time and are re-thinking how they engage with jobs and loved ones when restrictions are lifted. Work and home have been intermixed, shifting priorities towards an agile and more empathetic way forward. Employers have begun to reconsider their family-friendly work policies and having had this forced work from home experience, more fathers may be motivated to be more involved in childcare and household duties going forward.
At, TWF, we will continue to advocate for parental leave, which would give parents the flexibility to decide who is best positioned to take up the primary carer role. We also will continue to work with Government and employers to implement long term, flexible work arrangements that optimise employee performance and support family needs. But there are steps we can all take now to better acknowledge the mothers in our lives. Let’s start by acknowledging the effort and sacrifice that goes in to keeping households and communities functioning smoothly. Take time to connect with mothers, in person or virtually. This period has shown us how important it is to communicate, and how easy technology makes it. As employers, let’s lead with understanding and flexibility for all parents. Those who are mothers, practice self-care and communicate your needs, which are equally important, to those around you. As we carry on in this unusual time, let's honour and respect all those who are mothers and mother figures around us.
Get in touch at Fiona.Nott@twfhk.org