• Mary MacCarthy

Working from home: for mothers, it's no holiday

Updated: May 6, 2020

From Michigan to Moscow, Paris to Pakistan, women across the globe have taken on the near-impossible task of juggling careers and child-minding during the Covid-19 crisis.

Today we hear from Midhat Ali Zaidi. She works in international development and higher education, and is also a new mother.

She tells us what lock-down feels like in Pakistan’s second-largest city, and how religion is intertwined with the trajectory of the virus in her country.

Anabiya's first birthday, just before start of lock-down

HOW ARE YOU GETTING BY? I had a baby just a little over a year ago, so I’m with her all the time. My husband and daughter and I live in an apartment on the university campus where he teaches, the Lahore University of Management Sciences. It’s a 100-acre campus with lawns. It’s a blessing to be here, it feels very safe.

The baby, Anabiya, just started to walk two days ago. Finally - at thirteen months! But she’s still crawling around everywhere, so I’m constantly cleaning - mopping the floor with bleach. It’s very dusty here so you have to clean once or twice a day.

You have to understand that in Pakistan, most of us have maids or cleaners. I’m paying 6000 rupees or $40 a month to get my cleaning done - but now because of the lock-down I have to do it myself. I had a girl and her mother who could come alternately, but now they must stay home. We continue to pay them but not everyone is doing that. People who earn daily wages can apply for a government grant, but those are not easy to get.

Anabiya is blissfully unaware of the Covid crisis!

So there’s so much cleaning, and I’m cooking all the time, too. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, teas. I feel like for me - it’s the same kind of life, but with a lot more work. I also started a new job two weeks ago, as a Brand Manager for the Executive Education Center at the university. So I put Anabiya to bed at 8:30 PM then I work at my desk until about 2 AM. I do try to work during the day, but whenever I take out my laptop, the baby wants it. Of course she doesn’t do that to her dad - she lets him work when he needs to!

The government-enforced lock-down started on March 23rd and at first people were quite scared. Only grocers and pharmacies were open. But this week the government allowed businesses like tailors and plumbers to re-open - because so many of those businesses survive hand-to-mouth. I’ve been chatting with a group of friends on WhatsApp and they say a lot of people are out and about, compared to a few weeks ago. Full families going out shopping together! I’m not leaving the apartment at all because of the baby - she was in intensive care at birth due to lung problems, so I have to be extra careful. My husband goes out for the groceries.

So people who haven’t been directly touched by the virus are starting to relax. But the level of infection is high. The day before yesterday was the biggest one-day recorded increase in infections.

One issue here is that many of the moulvis [imams] want to open mosques since Ramadan starts next week. It’s a time of high religiosity and they don’t want to be detached from people. The moulvis fear that once people learn that they can pray at home, they will lose influence over their congregations.

We offer prayer five times a day. On Fridays, men - only men - go to congregational prayer at the mosque. For now, mosques are supposed to be closed. Just five people are allowed to be inside for prayers: the moulvi and the cleaning staff. But now - what many men have started to do is defy the closures by just gathering outside their mosques, for the Friday prayers.

And there is one mosque that has remained open throughout the entire crisis. It’s the Red Mosque of Islamabad - it’s located very close to Constitution Avenue where parliament is. It's the first mosque that was built in the capital. It has a long history of housing militants, and they are constantly challenging the government's authority.

Community spread has been increasing but we don’t have good systems in place for tracing outbreaks. We do know that the initial cases in Pakistan were people returning from pilgrimages to Iran and Mecca.

Since Pakistan is Sunni majority, blame was placed on the pilgrims coming from Iran - the Shias. The government put them in badly-managed quarantine camps - where many of them actually ended up contracting the virus.

Meanwhile those returning from Mecca - who are mostly Sunnis - they were treated just like any other international travelers. The first Pakistani to die from Covid had just returned from Mecca. He was already sick on his return trip, but he still threw a huge dinner upon his return - where many other villagers also became infected.

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