Dr.in Ute Sonnleitner, Head of Department of Education of “ÖGB-Steinmark” (Austrian Federation of Trade Unions, Styria).
In this issue we interview one member of our associated organization “ÖGB-Steinmark” (Austrian Federation of Trade Unions, Styria). She speaks to us about how Covid-19 is impacting care and work-life balance issues in Austria. Ute studied history and archaeology in Graz, finishing a dissertation on “Resistance against Austrofascism in Styria 1933-1938” in 2009. She has been a researcher and lecturer at the Department of History/Contemporary History (Karl-Franzens-University Graz). Mother of a two-year old boy herself, she is particularly interested in questions of care.
What have been the most important effects of the Covid-19 situation on care and work-life balance in Austria?
In the course of the first "lock-down" in March and April 2020 and the following months of summer, an intensive discussion on "caring duties" took place in Austria. Media reports were launched; ÖGB (Austrian Federation of Trade Unions) started a campaign aiming to improve the situation. All of the interviews, films and texts focused on one group: women who had to care for their children because schools and kindergartens were more or less closed. It would have been allowed to bring kids in, but ill-defined regulations intimidated parents and for the most part impeded use of these institutions. Therefore, children were at home and with them their parents, who were obliged to work from their home offices. And it was mainly the women who had to deal with the effects of the occurring multiple stresses. They truly had to bear the burdens of "care".
So Covid19 consequences on work-life balance have not affected all society in the same way…
Without any doubt, in this situation women were - and still are - among the most affected groups. The Corona-Crisis worked in this sense like a burning-glass: the fact was detected that the concept of a family income, made up by a male bread winner and a female additional earning, is predominant among Austrian families - with the effect that women cover a huge load of the unpaid work. (Ever increasing numbers of female part-time work during the last decades could have shown this long before, but politics as well as the public eye were mostly blind to these tendencies.)
Is Austrian (and European) society advancing in the right way towards “caring masculinities”?
The new-found public interest in the topic child-care and the recognition of its relevance, is very welcome and of great importance; but at the same time it is necessary to call attention to other aspects of care (elders, sick people, disabled people to name only a few) - and to other persons responsible for the duties of care as well: Caring men have to be highlighted and presented. Their example could help to develop a new role-model. This would be one important step - of many others necessary to come - towards a "society of equals".
Only the fair distribution of caring-responsibilities among all members of society will bring relief to women and offer them the chance to truly live "work-life-balance".