Shaira is Wen’s Soil Sisters Coordinator. She is an environmental educator working in schools, city farms, nature reserves and community gardens. Living in East London all her life, she’s keen to support urban communities to discover nature, take ownership of local green spaces and become change makers.
Shaira shares her experience of working from home during the Covid-19 outbreak through a person of colour perspective.
Working from home during the covid outbreak and lock down has been tricky for many of us around the globe. Whilst face to face communication isn’t possible at the moment; many homes have been using zoom sessions to work with colleagues, therapists, and even building movement classes online.
Outside of work, friends and family are catching up with loved ones using new technologies. I’ve been listening to people around me talking about the adjustments that they are having to make – finding the right technology, being able to share space and still carry on with routine and normal productivity levels. For many this includes managing the care needs for children, who are at home, as well as living with elderly in-laws or grandparents in larger households than the average British norm.
“People are finally noticing the unpaid care roles women undertake on a daily basis”.
People are finally noticing the unpaid care roles women undertake on a daily basis. Last November we recall the Equal Pay Day – the day in the year when women effectively stop earning in the year compared to their male counterparts. I feel for all of us who are having to manage uncertainty and the future of our jobs, not being around our loved ones physically and losing the community structures that sustain us – despite the wonderful mutual aid support that has sprung up.
Juggling work with care needs, as well as “staying on top of it all” is the reality for many women and the only way to survive in a capitalist society that makes you work relentlessly. Marginalized and BAME communities will hear me when I talk about high levels of depression and the likelihood of being a lone parent. What’s class, race and gender got to do with COVID 19 you may ask?
It’s a reminder that marginalized groups face everyday inequality, challenges navigating around life and hardship as a means to survive in this neoliberal and capitalist society. COVID-19 has surfaced existing inequalities in power and society and at work. And yes the virus and lockdown is making us all anxious and having an impact on our mental health, adding even more layers of struggles. The space in which we manage our stress levels is a privilege, we don’t have spaces to demarcate for work. Our parents do not have smart phones so we can call them.
BAME communities will be hit disproportionally by mental health challenges during the COVID-19 lockdown, as they endure the stress and anxiety on top of the multiple interactional layers already being lived through. In some BAME communities, mental health problems are rarely spoken about and can be seen in a negative light. This can discourage people within the community from talking about their mental health and may be a barrier to engagement with health services. The work place is also a space with power, not without as situational feminists will remind us. I must work harder than my other colleagues, which is commonly expressed by BAME friends, and at times I feel the same. COVID-19 isn’t helping but it’s a stark reminder for all that under the surface these are the realities and struggles that many working class BAME /communities/parents and carers feel and experience. Those of us who have experienced moments of imposter syndrome will know what I’m talking about – the idea that you are working in an organisation where the majority of people are not like you or how did I get this position and am I worthy of this opportunity?
As a working class, lone parent to a ten-year-old, COVID-19 has also got me working at home and guess what I’m actually enjoying it. I’m fortunate enough to have the right tech, space and set up at home. I am able to spend more time with my child, who I rarely have time with, as I work during the week and she is away at her dad’s at weekends. I’m aware that not everyone has the space or set up as I do. A lot of families like mine in Tower Hamlets live in council flats in a congested inner city, with no garden space, but I am grateful for my home and the local cemetery park and city farms around me.
It’s great to see friends taking up gardening and growing their own food, as well as trying out new recipes. For lots of us this has been the everyday norm, saving pennies by growing our own herbs on our balconies to batch cooking and freezing dinners. We’re out growing on our balcony too, making our own sourdough bread, eating dal bhat most days of the week as a result of the lockdown and schools being closed. My daughter is a zoom expert, encouraging me to be more mindful.
We’ve had talks about how communities in places like The Philippines and Bangladesh, where we have relatives, will cope with social distancing and who will have access to the testing kits and how people will pay for it. These are countries with weak health systems and no capacity to deal with the virus. We talked about our friends in school, how they would continue with their home learning, when they don’t have laptops or parents who can speak English to support their kids learning with school work.
We live in Tower Hamlets with a high population density, and deprivation of poverty and austerity, with many families who rely on free school meals. My ten year old also seems happy to see more of me; I’m feeling balanced, not having to worry about school pick-ups and juggling many plates in the air and there are so many plates to balance financially. We don’t know what the future holds, or what financial buffers open up to support families like us. We can only concentrate on the present – so to everyone out there who is finding it hard to balance, let’s reach out to all the lone working mums out there, who probably won’t ask you for support first, but will be the first to offer you support.
“BAME communities will be hit disproportionally by mental health challenges during the COVID-19 lockdown, as they endure the stress and anxiety on top of the multiple interactional layers already being lived through”.
We are all going to experience vulnerability at some point and to some degree, with various levels of access to resources, coping tools and strategies, and it’s important we support each other and all those around us. It isn’t charity and no one needs saving and there isn’t someone more worthy of needing support than another. It’s not about comparison but being aware of our privileges and acting in a way to live out a fulfilled life in the best way possible by being kind and compassionate and noticing others.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde
So to anybody reading this and not feeling overly productive at this current time, breathe, be aware of your feelings, and write down three good things that have happened in this week that made you smile. Take time to feed your mind and body through listening to healthy podcasts, some comedy or an educational film, not only the news on a loop. I’m actually more able to take part in conferences and events more so now than ever before. I don’t have to find child care to attend these conferences whilst streaming them online from home. It’s great. On the negative side, it means I have to calculate the risks of going to the shops with my daughter during lockdown versus not going at all.
Feed and nourish your body with a hearty meal. Take part in virtual quiz evenings, or a book club, if you find the time of course. These suggestions are great, not so if you are always time poor. I’ve managed to rearrange, and rejig /prioritize things to find some time for exercise both for physical and physiological needs. I remind myself of this quote by Audre Lorde “I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.”
Also maybe do nothing which is fine too. And know that you’re doing the best you can in this time and moment – we can’t all join the NHS volunteer service or do as much as we would like to for our local mutual aids groups, maybe because you’re working around the clock and homeschooling all at the same time as existing.
This blog post doesn’t have an intention, it’s for you to read and take away what you want to, but if there was, this quote would sum it all up:
“I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.”