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International Women's Day 2020: Women Voice under Epidemic

International Women’s Day 2020: Women Voice under Epidemic

Hong Kong Federation of Women's Centres (HKFWC), since its founding in 1981, has tirelessly committed to promoting women's rights at the grass-roots level. Given the COVID-19 epidemic prevalence, HKFWC has launched a survey to collect women's opinions on their worries about the epidemic and expectations for anti-epidemic policies from the perspective of carers at home. From February 21 to 28 in 2020, we interviewed over 850 women carers. It was observed that women's family roles and responsibilities as carers contribute to their anxiety levels. In other words, their anxiety levels depend on the family responsibilities they shoulder.

  1. Caregiving plus Disease Prevention Piled Pressures

15% of interviewees claimed their anxiety scored 10 (full score), while the average anxiety level of all responses scored as high as 7. Single mothers and divorced women's anxiety scored 7.22 on average, which was higher than both married women (scoring 7.08) and single women (scoring 6.53). Carers (scoring 7.3) generally claimed to feel more stressed than non-carers (scoring 6.22), starkly illustrating that greater pressures came with greater care responsibilities.


  1. Difficulties Searching for Masks

80% of interviewees sensed uneasiness associated with mask purchase. In terms of work allocation in anti-epidemic supplies purchases, 58% of women took full responsibility while 22% of women were assisted by their family members. Contrasting these two groups’ anxiety levels, the former group's anxiety score was 7.23 on average, much higher than the latter group's average anxiety score (6.8).


  1. Fear of Community Outbreak

The survey aimed to understand the epidemic's impacts on women's living style. Noticeably, there is a positive impact on women's hygiene awareness (68%). On the other hand, there are negative impacts on their sleeping quality (44%) and exercise (48%). Since the epidemic was likely to last, interviewees expressed concerns about community outbreak (31%) and a shortage of anti-epidemic supplies to support their daily lives (29%). Speaking of which, 48% of single mothers said their greatest fear is lacking anti-epidemic supplies. As single parents, these mothers experienced more difficulties in leaving home to supplies purchase.


  1. Case Studies

Wendy is a single mother and a new migrant to Hong Kong. Alone, she raises her son, who is in his junior year of primary school. The 24-hour caregiving routine means she could not join the massive queues for masks purchase or queues at community centres for anti-epidemic supplies. On top of that, expensive children's masks are unaffordable to CSSA recipients like her. To save masks, she only goes out once a week to buy foodstuffs. She has no room for rest 24/7, nor a chance to hang out and relax. Wendy pins hope on the government to regulate the sale of masks to prevent price surges. She also hopes there will be supportive measures that ensure low-income families access to basic anti-epidemic supplies.


Jane belongs to a quartet family in Sham Shui Po. She takes care of two toddlers (her 1-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son). "People rushed madly to pick up rice and toilet paper, but I couldn't go…I’m afraid my children might be injured when people push through the crowds," she sighed, "Masks buying is stressful too. Online orders for masks often got cancelled." Indeed, supplies purchase is hard for her. Jane is stressed out as a housewife. Worse still, her husband is working shorter hours, so they are worried about the financial situation. Since her daughter is 1 year old, Jane does not dare leave home and the family relies on her husband to do grocery shopping. Jane and her children rarely go out. And her son often complains about being bored at home.


In a press conference, clinical psychologist Ms Esther YF Ng gave advice on alleviating anxiety. Ms Ng pointed out, "Anxiety boosts citizens" health awareness to a certain extent to combat the epidemic. But we should avoid being overwhelmed by anxiety." In response to women's anxiety levels showcased by the survey, Ms Ng reckoned that concrete measures by the government would be necessary to reassure citizens. Ms Ng recognized that some people might not trust the government, but she emphasized the importance of believing in science and authorities such as medical experts and the Centre for Health Protection. She added that over-complaining is a burden to oneself, therefore from time to time, we should detox from stress and not bother.


Suggestions by HKFWC

  • Effective allocation of anti-epidemic supplies

More often than not, carers need to constantly take care of their family members, making supplies purchase a difficult task. Therefore, we suggest anti-epidemic resource matching. The epidemic is likely to be a long war and experts suggest stocking enough masks for a few months. Anti-epidemic supplies must be effectively allocated to families in need. Although some kind citizens have delivered anti-epidemic supplies to the needy on street, some carers could not leave home easily and might be unaware of these activities. To ensure effective allocation, it is important to make arrangements that cater to those carers. For example, online registration should be available for carers to sign up for getting supplies. In the short term, essential supplies including masks could be mailed to these families. In the long term, collaboration is the key to effective resource allocation.


  • Supermarket online platform subsidy

Some carers rarely leave home because they could not take young children to crowded places like wet markets. As a result, running errands has become a source of stress. HKFWC proposed cross-sector collaboration. For instance, online grocery platforms and food delivery platforms might provide discount quotas to charity organizations. Charity organizations could allocate discount quotas to low-income families that have difficulties going out. With an opportunity to enjoy home delivery, their caregiving burden could be eased.


  •  Supporting needs of students during class suspension

Class suspension means students are staying at home for a longer time. Since public libraries and most public facilities have closed under the epidemic, low-income students and carers now enjoy even fewer study resources. HKFWC proposes sending picture books to these low-income families to support the children's reading needs. Now that schools opt for online teaching, and that community welfare organizations shift to provide information and services online, expenditure for Internet usage becomes a necessary but heavy burden for low-income families. HKFWC proposes subsidizing gadgets like network interface cards, wifi eggs, and computers to low-income families, thereby overcoming the digital divide in Hong Kong.


  • Family and social support

Family members should be more sensitive, try to understand carers’ difficulties and moods during the epidemic and provide emotional and practical support for the carers. As an obvious example, taking turns in looking after the care recipient allows the caregiver some room for rest. Family members could as well offer to help with supplies purchases, refrain from putting the blame on the caregiver and acknowledge the caregiver’s contribution. More importantly, family members should encourage the caregiver in taking care of her own emotional needs. If help from the outside is needed, carers could seek help from schools and community welfare organizations which provide emergency support.


  • Mental disease prevention

Mental health issues should be dealt with at individual, community, and policy levels. The government should acknowledge the importance of mental health and revise its policies. In light of the negative impacts on Hong Kong citizens' mentality posed by social events and the epidemic in the past year, interventions at individual, community, and policy levels should be done to rebuild trust and bonds, strengthen citizens' mentality, and prevent mental illnesses.

Media Enquiry

Ms Si-si Liu

(852) 2153 3153

Mr Alvin Chung

Senior Development Officer|Development
(852) 2153 3153