Monday, 23 March 2020

Women in Film and Television Will Suffer More Than Men Because of Covid-19 – Here is How We Can Stop That Happening

An advantage of living and working in China is that you get a glimpse into the future of what is going to happen in other countries with regards to Covid-19.

One of the biggest concerns when it comes to media diversity is whether women will be disproportionately disadvantaged by the outbreak.

Currently numerous film and television productions across the UK have either been put on hold indefinitely or cancelled which has severely hit freelancers – both and women alike.

However, as I said earlier, working in China I get a chance to have a small peak into the future.
The fact is while these may seem like bleak times across the world eventually the virus will be overcome and normally life and work will resume. But if China is any example to go by normal life does not restart all at once. Instead it is staggered, and some parts of the economy and regular life get back to normal before others.

On the Chinese mainland the virus now appears effectively under control domestically with nearly all new cases originating from people outside of China returning home, predominantly Chinese students studying in foreign universities trying to escape the virus.

As things started to stabilize, in the first few weeks offices reopened, followed by shops and restaurants and most recently cinemas have started to reopen. But there are still some places that have remained closed including gyms and schools.

It is this last element – schools - remaining closed that has the potential to exacerbate gender inequality.  

If the UK follows a similar pattern, when things start to get back to normal this could seriously harm women’s careers.

When I was an executive producer at BBC Scotland I managed several women who worked either part-time or compressed hours (working a 40-hour week in a four-day week) because of childcare duties. I have only ever managed one male employee who worked compressed hours due to childcare.

According to the UK Office for National Statistics women still do almost three times the amount of childcare duties compared to men.  

When it comes to the virus and schools are closed women are far more likely to have to look after children.

The consequence of this are obvious and stark.

It means that when productions eventually restart, if schools do not open at the same time, men will be able to take advantage of the opportunities while far too many women might find themselves having to choose between working and looking after children.

If this happens the current statistic that only 24.31% of television directors are women could worsen.

Now, obviously the long-term solution is for family duties to be shared more equally between men and women – especially childcare.  However, this requires long term cultural changes and has proven difficult to shift over the last few decades let alone to change dramatically in time for when the worst aspects of the virus come to an end.

In the meantime, there are nevertheless a few things that can be done to alleviate this looming situation.

First, they could provide daycare and nurseries for working parents.

Second, politicians should be sensitive to these issues and see how they can open schools sooner rather than later as things start to reopen.

And third, the issue should be discussed more widely and openly now, before life starts to return to normal following the virus, so working parents can plan for the coming problems calmly rather than in the face of a crisis.

Sometimes it is difficult to see past any current crisis we might be currently facing, and the crisis facing freelancers due to the coronavirus is real, severe and immediate. I commend the great work being done by organisations like BECTU, broadcasters like Channel 4 and the BBC, and individuals such as Donna Taberer, who are all working hard to address the current problems. But if we want to make sure diversity doesn’t suffer we also need to keep one eye on the future.

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