Uganda: Parents adjust to new childcare duties during COVID-19

| July 20, 2020

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Over the past few months, Beatrice Luzobe has had more time at home for family, meaning more bonding time, more support in home activities, and more family meal times. But not every home is harmonious. Mrs. Luzobe benefits from the support of other adults in her home, but for single parents like Sarah Mawerere, managing childcare and work can be difficult. It can also be difficult to talk about the COVID-19 pandemic with children who need to know good handwashing techniques and physical distancing, but who may be more concerned about playing with their friends. Mrs. Luzobe helps her granddaughter practice good handwashing techniques while recording them on her phone as a fun family activity.

Over the past few months, Beatrice Luzobe has had more time at home for family, meaning more bonding time, more support in home activities, and more family meal times. She says, “My home is fine and in harmony.”

Mrs. Luzobe is the chief executive officer of the Uganda Forum for Agricultural and Advisory Services. She lives in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, with her family of eight, including her husband, four adult children, and two grandchildren.

Families around the world have been adjusting to new routines now that schools are closed as part of precautionary measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. In Uganda, schools closed on March 22 and remained closed at the end of June. In the meantime, parents have had to take on new child care and educational duties, and ensure that their kids are aware of sanitary practices to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Mrs. Luzobe says she is fortunate. The family has a full office space attached to the home and plenty of adults around to help. She explains, “We are mostly adults who are also occupied with our own work, but also participate in housework accordingly.”

Mrs. Luzobe’s husband is a freelance consultant who often worked from home before the lockdown. They are now both working at home and have agreed on a new routine. They work between the two main meals, and reserve the time before and after as family time.

Family time means different things when the children are not in school. Mrs. Luzobe has two grandchildren, aged two and five. They are getting an early education in household responsibilities.

Mrs. Luzobe explains: “We have made sure they get involved in activities other than television and games. The bigger one makes her bed and organizes her bedroom. They are learning to look after chickens, to plant and care for crops, and to wash dishes. Though [it’s] not perfect, they are allowed to participate so that they learn.”

Sarah Mawerere is a radio broadcaster with Uganda Broadcasting Corporation and is currently supporting Farm Radio International as a local networker. She has a one-year-old child and lives with her niece, which makes balancing work and childcare difficult for this single mother. She explains: “We all stay at home now most of the time and being that I am a mother and at the same time a worker, it is so inconvenient. There is no room for me to concentrate on work: the young one keeps disturbing me.”

She is also full of concern for the health of her child and the niece who helps her at home. Ms. Mawerere washes her hands several times an hour to protect her child from infection and watches carefully when her child plays with the neighbours’ children.

She encourages the rest of her family to take precautions. They live in a family farmhouse, and because of government restrictions on travel, are required to stay there. She calls her family to make sure they have soap and to ensure they follow social etiquette, such as not spitting and not touching their nose and mouth.

Mrs. Luzobe also talks with her grandchildren about the dangers of COVID-19 and about good sanitary practices. She asked her granddaughter to act out the precautions, including good handwashing techniques, and recorded them on her phone.

Sostine Namanya is the gender and food security officer at the National Association of Professional Environmentalists in Kampala. She is not a parent, but sympathizes with those who are. She has particular sympathy for women who have increased responsibilities and who are often asked to take on additional childcare or educational roles.

She says it’s important that parents take time away from work to look after their children, their families, and themselves whenever possible. While this can be challenging for working parents, in particular working mothers, she believes governments should support it.

Ms. Namanya adds that she hopes this experience will lead to a change in social norms to support equal distribution of childcare responsibilities. She says, “We need to encourage more men and boys to help balance the burden of care in their households.”

Photo: A family in North East, Ghana, at their home in 2015. Credit: Jesse Winter / Farm Radio International