Government oversteps the mark with sexist COVID advert

By Charlotte Bice |

Most of the time it feels like, as a society, we have made distinct progress in the plight for gender equality – and then we are reminded that the disparity between the gender roles in home and work life is still alive and well, just more covert than it was 60 years ago. The recent Government advert is one of these reminders.  

| UK Government

The advert, which has been removed, advised the population to ‘Stay home. Save lives.’ It featured 4 scenes: a family resting on a sofa, a woman with a baby (presumably ironing), a woman home-schooling two children, and a woman and daughter cleaning. Whether consciously or not, by approving and using the ad, the Government is promoting the idea that unpaid work in the home – invisible labour – is the sole responsibility of women. It is insulting that this sexist notion is recapitulated by a public institution which should know better.  

Women’s invisible labour is not a new issue created by the pandemic.  Over the last 50 years, as the numbers of women in the workplace increased, so has the pressure for women to have successful careers whilst maintaining a full-time job as a ‘housewife’.  Just because fewer women devote all their time to household chores does not mean these tasks go away.  The push for men to take on their equal share of these responsibilities has been far less successful than the drive to get more women into the workplace, leaving many women essentially working two full time jobs.   

Decades of progress regarding gender equality in the workplace is currently under threat, as women’s immediate and long-term ability to access jobs they deserve is hindered by looming concerns of childcare

ONS data from 2014 estimated the total value of unpaid work in the UK was £1.01tn and approximately 62% of that invisible labour was done by women.  The only category that saw men put in more hours of unpaid work was transportation, which involves driving themselves and others around, including commuting to work.  It is not a surprise that the only category that men do not do less than half the average hours that women do is the only one that involves a necessary activity for work and is not part of keeping homelife running smoothly.

In 2021, there has been not been progress but rather a regression, as women are expected to contribute to educating their children whilst schools are closed, and virtual learning is the current norm.  This has subsequently had an immense impact of mental wellbeing. In one survey conducted by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), nine out of ten working mums said their mental health has been negatively impacted by the increased workload which has resulted from online learning. Many of these pressures could be alleviated if parents, mothers in particular, had access to the furlough scheme on the grounds of childcare.  The survey went on to highlight how most requests for furlough on these grounds are denied, forcing working mothers to use annual leave, unpaid leave or reduce their working hours to keep all the plates spinning. Decades of progress regarding gender equality in the workplace is currently under threat, as women’s immediate and long-term ability to access jobs they deserve is hindered by looming concerns of childcare.  This societal assumption, that the burden of education and childcare falls entirely into the hands of women, reinforces sexist gender roles within households. The use of these stereotypes in Government advertising only serves to cement them further into our society.  

It’s difficult to believe that the Government deliberately created this advert as propaganda with the intention of putting women ‘in their place’, but it is more likely that there is just no effort within Government to address their bias towards women’s role in society. Rishi Sunak recently landed himself in hot water after he made sexist remarks thanking “mums everywhere … for doing the enormously difficult job of juggling childcare and work”. 

| Charles Deluvio/Unsplash

It seems there is no one within the Government leadership visibly challenging the outdated notion that women, and women solely, are required to have a career and perform the role of a domestic goddess simultaneously.  How can there be hope for a more equal society when the very people whose job it is to help create it, appear to pay no mind to the issues faced everyday by women? There is still a long way to go to achieve equality for women in the eyes of society, and it certainly doesn’t start here.

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