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Image / Editorial

Frances Fitzgerald: ‘COVID-19 has really highlighted the gender differences in our society’

14th Jun 2020

We asked influential Irish women what they have learned since the pandemic began. Here, Frances Fitzgerald, former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, reflects on what she has learned

COVID-19 has really highlighted the gender differences in our society.

For many years we have discussed the importance of ‘work-life balance’. The whole question of care in our society from childcare to eldercare, to care for people with a disability is now being viewed through a new lens. COVID-19 has thrown into sharp relief who does the caring and the essential tasks within our society – we need a new Irish and European care deal. Childcare is an essential part of this debate for families and women in particular.

Patterns of work such as remote working, which have been long discussed have changed suddenly and dramatically in a way that no one would have thought possible.

Covid has given us all the opportunity to reconnect with what we value deeply.

Undoubtedly the differential impacts that COVID-19 is having and has had on women and men is something I’ve learned more about during this crisis – interestingly, approximately 76% of the 49 million care workers in the EU are women and 82% of cashiers in the EU are women. It is time for reflection on what we consider essential.

Recently while delivering a women in leadership masterclass, I was very struck by the women taking part, all in senior management positions, speaking about spending more time with their families, having more time for hobbies and home and yet at the same time dearly loving their work but finding combining it at home without childcare very difficult – quite a conundrum really!

Covid has given us all the opportunity to reconnect with what we value deeply.

A new way

New technology has really come into its own allowing us to do a range of work from our homes including my work as an MEP. Remote working means working intensively with the European Parliament in Brussels.

It’s extraordinary how much work is possible with new technology. I can make a Zoom call to colleagues, host a Microsoft Teams meeting with my staff, join a Skype conference and Facetime my friends and family. As a result, I am busier than ever with my work. All 705 MEP’s can vote remotely, and I attend webinars and hold meetings – all from my kitchen table and as I’m sure like most who are working from home know, there are technical difficulties from time to time!

Technology has proven to be an essential for work in all of our lives. It also means that I am able to see my grandson who is only 10 months old, on video but I long for the day that I can hold him again.

Finally, during this period of reflection, I have wondered whether this will give us an opportunity to combine family and work more effectively?

At a personal level, like all I am trying to declutter! But then you find something of real value like the letters I came across from my Mum and Dad from when I lived in England, and then the decluttering stalls!

I have certainly enjoyed cooking, I even baked brown bread! A busy Ministerial life curtailed all of that! I am particularly enjoying Simon Reeves travel programmes with their very strong political insights and my garden with my new bird feeder.

Finally, during this period of reflection, I have wondered whether this will give us an opportunity to combine family and work more effectively? Will we reevaluate the essentials and what we value in our society?

I would recommend two books that I have found intriguing during this period, one called ‘Midnight Chicken’ (& Other Recipes Worth Living For) by Ella Risbridger – a cookbook that reads like a novel and ‘Invisible Women’ (Exposing data bias in a world designed for men) by Caroline Criado Perez – both are must reads!

Frances Fitzgerald is a member of the European Parliament for the Dublin constituency, EPP Group Coordinator for the Women and Gender Equality Committee, former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice.

Illustration by Laura Kenny

Read more: Mary Robinson: ‘Covid-19 will exacerbate the problems of inequality and conflict’

Read more: Amy Huberman: ‘I’ve learned that we are resilient, despite the wobbles we feel’

Read more: Mary Lou McDonald: ‘When some sense of normality resumes I’ll treasure small moments all the more’