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Care and daily life: Brazilian women’s reality during the pandemic

By: Renata Moreno, Regina Stela Corrêa Vieira, and Mariana Mazzini Marcondes 

Care is essential for life. It is only possible to live everyday due to a set of paid and unpaid works. These works are performed daily to meet basic needs, such as: cooking, cleaning, giving affection. Care work, politicized by feminist theories and practices, is carried out especially at home, mostly by women (mostly black and indigenous and impoverished women).

The Covid-19 pandemic increased care work. Also, made it more visible. This was because of the closing of services (public or private) that meet part of this demand for care, such as childcare services and schools. Besides, the Home Office also blurred the boundaries between the domestic and the professional spheres, especially for middle and upper-class families. However, this was not the reality of the majority of the Brazilian population. The large contingent of workers continued to develop their activities to meet the needs of a minority, in precarious conditions, poorly paid and with health risk: domestic workers, delivery men, porters, bus drivers , nurses, etc.

The research “Non-stop: the work and lives of women in the pandemic”  carried out by the Sempreviva Feminist Organization and by Gender and Number, presents the complexity of this situation in Brazil. Around 2,640 women were interviewed between April and May 2020. Considering gender, domestic work increased during the pandemic, but there was not an equal increase in the sharing of responsibilities between women and men. About 25% of women complying with social distancing stated that the participation of other people in the daily responsibilities of the home has decreased.

One of the effects of the increase in domestic work concentrated on women was their overload. Among the “Sem Parar” survey’s respondents, 65.4% stated that their responsibilities with domestic and care work made it difficult to carry out their paid work. Besides, women pointed out that their responsibility for care has increased: 50% of the interviewees started to take care of someone during the period. For 72% of these women, the need for monitoring and keeping company for children and the elderly “has increased” and “greatly increased”. Among the activities, the most mentioned were preparing food, washing the dishes and cleaning the house. It was rural women who reported having started to care even more (62%, against 50% of the overall total).

Furthermore, if the pandemic brought risks to their lives and health, for 40% of the survey respondents it also produced financial risks. These difficulties involved paying rent or basic household bills, as well as eating meals: for lower-income families, closing schools meant that children lost their only access to a more balanced meal. According to the survey carried out by Keep an Eye in the Community, which took place in a suburb of the city of São Paulo (Heliópolis), 67% of local families reduced the amount of food in their meals, while 42% stopped having three meals a day during the pandemic.

Most of the women who accomplish paid domestic work in Brazil live in poor communities, and, therefore, occupy the basis of a social organization of care that produces inequalities. In the country, there are about 7 million domestic workers. Among these, ⅔ are black women (66%), and 72% work in informal conditions, with remuneration below the minimum wage. A research study carried out by the Brazilian Statistics Institute (“Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatísticas – IBGE”), indicates that approximately 1 million domestic workers lost their jobs during the pandemic. According to a study carried out by researchers from UFRN, among the workers who, in 2020, continued to work in person, there were mainly those who performed care activities (84% among elderly caregivers and 42.2% among nannies).

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