South Africans have never imagined that we would experience the ‘times of today’, certainly not a global pandemic. COVID-19 shook us at our core and we never expected to bear witness, well not in this lifetime at least, to a state of ‘lockdown’ and think our lives would change so drastically. Suddenly we all had something in common and we became curious, “How were the women from all over South Africa coping?” we wondered. Regardless of whether they are working women, home executives or unemployed women.
There has to be a hundred or more studies out there, showcasing the strength or weakness of women, ‘the battle of the sexes’ if you must, we personally believe the jury is still out on this debate. If you ever wanted to know exactly how strong a woman truly is, just ask her amidst the worst of times, and who better to ask than simply the women you know personally, like friends, family, colleagues, even your clients? Women you spend a substantial amount of time with… and so we did.
It was not only our curiosity to determine their resilience, we also wanted to know what they were experiencing during the current state of lockdown. So we got personal, and asked a few women to open up and share with us about their emotional state, while being confined indoors.
Our sample group of multi-generational women, where 1 in 3 can be described as Millennial, and half of the sample being part of Gen-X and 13% being Baby Boomers.
We just assumed that their responses would paint us a picture of strength, or lack thereof. However, it was more than that, it became evident that despite their age, relationship status, level of work, responsibilities and taking care of their families, these kinds of statistics had become obsolete during lockdown.
A new world of life and work has dawned upon them. It was no longer about resilience, but reinventing themselves for the future. Our analysts found that the majority of these women “proved powerful, agile and responsive”. Their nurturing spirit rose above and it became evident that life was no longer about being in lockdown or confined to their homes, but being “set free”.
Their daily routines of commuting in traffic, frustrated before the first cup of coffee, having to leave their homes and their children in the care of others, while spending hours confined in an office was something of the past. Now they were free, free to think, free to be productive and introspective, and they were multi-tasking, refocusing, and simply reigniting themselves. All of this positive willpower was shining through. Despite being locked indoors, these women have never felt more spirited.
Analysis of our sample displayed that the majority (91%) of these women have a positive coping mechanism for dealing with their situation. On a scale of average to excellent, 64% stated that their emotional well-being at the time was ‘excellent’.
Some women reported a state of euphoria, despite being immersed in such uncertainty during the lockdown, almost as if they had ‘an epiphany’, realising they possess true resilience.
What stood out in our findings was that each generation group responded and approached the situation differently. The situation of a lockdown has stretched their way of thinking, changing their behaviour and adjusting their attitudes. Conspicuous consumption turned into opting for a simpler lifestyle and buying patterns were never going to be the same as before, yet they adapted, remaining positive for their whole family, as they grappled with the fear of uncertainty. Unsure of this new disease, unsure of work, unsure of earning an income.
The majority (75%) of the women in this sample confirmed that they were in a relationship, but not necessarily married, although some lived with their partners and had additional support. What was surprisingly insightful was that the women who indicated that they were single, or had a single parent household, were coping just as well as their married counterparts.
Our interviewees included 13% of women who are unemployed, home executives and widowed pensioners. An eighty-one-year-old widow said,
“With the recent passing of my husband of 52 years, I was suddenly left to take care of things on my own and attend to matters that I never had to deal with before. Through this process I have come to realise that I am capable of so much more, despite the many challenges.”
These women could not be defined by their age, whether they were in a relationship, or if they were a parent or grandparent, and they certainly were not going to be defined by their circumstances. This shows us that ‘uncertainty’ was not going to keep them down.
Who exactly are these women we engaged with as part of this research? Some were professionals, administrative workers, artisans and business owners and now they are all working from home, multi-tasking during COVID-19. Their attitude to a digital work environment and connectivity was “forced” to change. Webinars, Zoom and Microsoft Teams are how they meet their colleagues and clients now, and when the cameras are off, they sit cuddled in warm pyjamas and no lipstick, freedom at last. They are even resolving their IT/Wi-Fi issues all by themselves from their homes.
“Having to adapt to technology, do meetings via Teams, Zoom or webinars and most of all not being able to see family and my grandchildren”
Suddenly mothers and grandmothers had the ability to manage young minds, now they are doing the teaching, forced to school their children or their grandchildren, while coping with own work responsibilities.
“I have now learned that I am actually a very patient person during lockdown, because I’ve been handling household chores, cooking, working from home and at the same time, assisting an overactive toddler with homework.”
Our sample showed 50% of Gen-X women were managing older children at home. Their age affords them the wisdom and experience to be able to be confined with teenagers and tertiary students while keeping their sanity intact.
While accepting the impact of COVID-19, it was time to admit that women are adaptable. These women reflected on their past and present attitudes. They proved their resilience with a positive attitude and they displayed gratitude, grateful for still receiving a source of income and the opportunity to work in the comfort of their homes. Accepting the ‘new normal’, suddenly realising that they were good at multi-tasking while balancing work and home life and dealing with the possibility of retrenchment and loss of income, yet keeping it to themselves.
They shared that they were being tested every day, emotionally, psychologically and physiologically. Dealing with the reality of COVID-19 and perhaps losing a loved one, fear of becoming infected themselves, how were they going to manage with less money, not having physical contact with parents or other family and friends… regardless they keep busy and continue to help others.
The women of Simeka, their families, friends and clients proved resolute, positive and still on top of their game, both in their careers and in their personal and family life.
What generation comes after millennials? Meet Gen Z updated by Keith Brannan, December 5, 2019
Accessed July 2020