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Indonesia’s working moms: ‘Juggling’ in a pandemic

I have personally always admired working moms. The ongoing pandemic makes me adore them even more. Through this article, I want to focus on how the disease exacerbates inequality for women, especially Indonesian working moms, in the way they need to juggle responsibilities from different kinds of social roles. I live in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city. This is not my story. But I feel the frustration of my married friends and co-workers who are mothers. Here is their typical day. 

In the morning, the mothers do home duties like cleaning and washing clothes. Then they rush to the swirl of making breakfast, lunch and dinner. Social distancing now requires them to shop online and prepare meals themselves; just a few choose online delivery for food. They are lucky to have one or two hours to set up their work stations and check hundreds of emails, at least until they hear their children screaming. Schools and daycares are closed, so mothers now need to completely understand learning instructions and technology. The kids can’t sit still, husbands get easily annoyed, and the mothers have to choose to sleep or spend the nights finishing work deadlines.

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COVID-19 aggravates the multitasking situation for working moms for the full 24 hours of the day. Upper-middle-class working moms try to manage inevitable duties that normally could be done by paid parties; including being teachers, chefs, house cleaners, financial planners, nutritionists and even doctors. A mother will also automatically become the most responsible person in taking care of the family’s health and hygiene, as pointed out by Indonesia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Retno Marsudi.

Even with all those challenges, I now realize that many working moms don’t have the privileges of my coworkers and friends. Some working moms stand on the frontline and are affected severely because of COVID-19. Nearly 70% of global healthcare workers are women. In Indonesia, women dominate the nursing profession with over 70% of nurses being female. Almost 65% of Indonesian small-medium enterprise players are also women. During the current situation, these women and other single mothers, female migrants and workers from low-class economic classes have a higher chance of facing job losses, as well as domestic violence, depression, and less health protection. 

I’m aware that the bigger problem here is about shared responsibility in the household. One of my friends made a great analogy about this, saying women have a hard time juggling multiple things and people can choose to either just be the audience or to help. Throughout this shutdown, I’m happy to see how my female co-workers use this time to have a serious talk with their spouses on how to rearrange the division of household chores. My friends have started to teach self-discipline and even divide domestic responsibilities to their children. On my part, I’m glad that I can be more empathetic now, by simply saying “let us talk if you already feel good” or “it’s okay, I will call you again once your children are sleeping”. I think it also adds a sense of connection when seeing someone’s children or a lovely pet on screen, or when people share memes about zoom fails!

I have also found out how Indonesian women rely much on their support system; friends, the neighbourhood or the online community. Most of them like to share their new routines during the lockdown on social media and ask other women to join cooking, makeup and sports group challenges. One hilarious trend is the Tik Tok challenge called “Lompat Terbang” or “Jump and Fly” that invites working moms to shoot videos while moving and doing the house chores without touching the floors.  

Some of Indonesia’s Instagram accounts like @ibupedia_id, @perempuantagartegar, @skata_id and @lalitaproject have also built up quite a huge women’s community on Instagram, to provide helpful contents and bridge connection between women. One of my favorite accounts is @ibu.ibukota which features the story of women representatives who become health heroes against COVID. We also recently celebrated the annual “Kartini Day” on 21 April which encourages women to support each other and celebrate every woman’s achievements. 

To end, I would like to emphasize that everyone, regardless of gender or age, carries out their own roles in this situation and does the best they can to live because, after all, we are all in the same boat.

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