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Story | Community
15 November 2020

Op-ed: Are female-headed households more affected by the pandemic?


Image source: Caitlin Ochs, via REUTERS

Dr. Sharifa Noaman Al Emadi, Executive Director of Doha International Family Institute (DIFI), a QF member, writes about women in the Arab world taking on larger share of unpaid work, and the struggles of finding adequate work-life balance

The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly changed the world as we know it, forcing organizations to take drastic measures including working from home and flexible working arrangements that have altered the roles and responsibilities of all family members. Parent are expected to continue working, while also taking care of the household and children’s education. Yet, that balance is not easily achieved.

Dr. Sharifa Noaman Al Emadi

DIFI’s study on “Work-family Balance: Challenges and Implications for Families in Qatar” showed that 8 out of 100 working Qatari women and men thought they excelled in balancing work and family, in contrast to one-third of men and a staggering 50 percent of women who thought they were failing. Notably, women faced challenges in finding a balance under normal circumstances and as such, have undoubtable been affected by the pandemic crisis.

A report by United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia on the impact of COVID-19 on gender equality in the Arab region highlights that women in the region devote 4.7 more time in unpaid work than men do, and thus the current challenges of balancing between work and family will most likely fall on women, more so than on men.

Image source: LightField Studios, via Shutterstock

Needless to say, this burden will be heavier on divorced and widowed mothers, especially as extended family support is lost due to social distancing measures.

That being said, research also indicates that families living in the most difficult circumstances draw upon a rich set of characteristics or “family strengths”, that enable them to nurture their members and continue to prosper in the fact of even the most extreme adversity. For example, in a research conducted by DIFI on migration stressors and marital relations among Arab refugee families in Canada, families showed resilience and fluidity in dealing with the challenges they faced. The roles of parent, provider, and protector were in flux post-migration – new gendered roles were taken on in many cases, especially as some women were able to locate employment in a transit country and/or to learn new languages quicker than men, and thus, took on breadwinner roles while their husbands stayed home to care for the children. As such, families found a way to address their challenges head on and pave their way forward.

Image source:, via Shutterstock

With that said, in light of the social and economic challenges that female-headed households have faced as a result of COVID-19, the institution of the family remains the backbone of Arab society and serves as the primary source of support and aid for its members. Family strengths not only contribute to family cohesion and foster the individual growth and well-being of all its members, but also have positive benefits for communities and societies as a whole.

To that end, DIFI is conducting a study on “Surviving a Crisis: A Case Study on the Impact of Coronavirus on Family Cohesion in Qatar” which might highlight more light on how the family unit was affected by the pandemic. The study will focus on how families function in light of the current situation of the pandemic. It will also shed light on the social, psychological, economic, health and educational impact of the pandemic on family cohesion, explore family coping mechanisms, and determine the extent of the response of policies and programs.

Dr. Sharifa Noaman Al Emadi is currently the Executive Director of Doha International Family Institute (DIFI). DIFI is a global policy and advocacy Institute working to advance knowledge on Arab families and promote evidence-based policies

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