Schools reopen more quickly in societies with equal opportunities for women, report finds

‘Schools closures have far-reaching, mostly destructive implications for children, mothers, and families that may not become obvious until more time passes,’ says report author

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Tuesday 26 January 2021 15:26
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<p>Researchers argue policymakers who espouse ‘gender essentialist values’, which includes the ‘ideal of a stay-at-home mother’, deem the harm of school closures to be less important</p>

Researchers argue policymakers who espouse ‘gender essentialist values’, which includes the ‘ideal of a stay-at-home mother’, deem the harm of school closures to be less important

Schools reopen in societies which have greater levels of equal opportunity for women while nations with politicians who believe women should remain in the home take closures less seriously, a new study has found.

The report, carried out by the University of Cologne, suggested ideas around gender are a critical factor in choices about whether to reopen schools after lockdowns implemented in the wake of the pandemic.

Researchers argue policymakers who espouse “gender essentialist values”, which includes the “ideal of a stay-at-home mother”, deem the harm of school closures to be less important.

Meanwhile, societies which champion working mothers acknowledge the significant repercussions of shutting schools for single parents or households where both parents are in employment as at least one parent may not be able to work as much - with it often being mothers picking up the slack.

Dr Hudde, one of the report’s authors, said: “Shutting schools is a dangerously easy tool to use. It can be done quickly, and with no immediate economic costs, but, schools closures have far-reaching, mostly destructive implications for children, mothers, and families that may not become obvious until more time passes”.

Researchers used details on school opening status from a UNESCO database and utilised individual country’s information about gender ideology from the International Social Survey Programme.

The latest research comes as it emerged the UK government is weighing up options to slowly reopen schools over the spring, with certain year groups returning before others.

Boris Johnson promised the education sector should be the last area to be locked down and the first to open back up.

Multiple UK studies discovered women bore the brunt of childcare responsibilities, household chores and homeschooling during the first national lockdown last spring – regardless of whether they were working or not.

While recent research found women are twice as likely to need time off work with no pay to look after children due to schools closing during the public health crisis – raising fears the pandemic could worsen gender inequality.

The report, released by Fawcett Society and Women’s Budget Group earlier in the month, found 15 per cent of mothers say they would have to take time off work while not being paid as a result of schools shutting their doors or their child getting sick, whereas only 8 per cent of fathers reported the same.

Meanwhile, new research released on Monday found 62 per cent of parents want primary and exam-year students back in school after February half term.

Researchers at Mumsnet, the UK’s biggest network for parents, who surveyed over 1000 parents of school-aged children, found mothers are spending an average of 1.9 hours each day helping their children with schoolwork, while those with a male partner say their partner spends 0.7 hours.

Three quarters of all polled warn school lockdowns are damaging children’s education, while around eight in ten say lockdown has been detrimental to their children’s mental health.

Justine Roberts, founder of Mumsnet, said: “There are no bright spots here. Most parents accept that the national situation demands restrictions on school attendance, but the impacts on parents and children are serious.

“Working mothers in particular are really struggling, and worrying about their own future in the workplace as well as children’s education and wellbeing.

“We’re hearing of mothers getting up earlier and earlier and going to bed later and later at night, sometimes working past midnight to make up the hours they spend supporting their children during the day. Parents and children need some real clarity now about when and how schools might open, and about how exams will be handled.”

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