Women under financial, emotional pressure
Are you thriving, or just surviving? Chances are, if you’re a woman in South Africa, you’re highly stressed about life and finances – and fighting to keep your head above water.
Getting out of survival mode is not as easy as taking up yoga, escaping into nature or taking up mindfulness meditations. Although these practices might alleviate some of the stress, what you really need is a reset – and a plan.
A survey by Sanlam has found that 72% of women in South Africa are in survival mode. In a patriarchal society such as ours, women are not only more at risk of losing their jobs or being placed on “short time” due to Covid-19, they are victim to high rates of gender-based violence, have higher debt levels, take on more childcare and household responsibilities than men, and have less access to finance.
The survey, conducted last month, found that South African women struggle to focus on the future, particularly their financial future, due to the immediate pressures brought about by the lockdown. They are also three times more likely to consider themselves to be in survival mode if they did not have access to financial advice. But with only two in every 10 women likely to obtain financial advice from independent professionals, they are falling behind in planning for their immediate, medium and long-term financial needs.
The survey, conducted online with a sample size of more than 2 000 women, found the income of six in 10 women was reduced due to the pandemic. Four in 10 women have become more money-conscious in response to the reduction in their income and half of women were spending significantly more on food and other expenses than before the lockdown.
A United Nations Development Programme report on household vulnerability has warned that Covid-19 has plunged more than a third of middle-class households into poverty. The hardest-hit are already vulnerable female-headed households, black populations, people with only primary education, and people without social assistance.
Economists expect South Africa’s gross domestic product to decline by at least 10% for the year. Economist and Free State University pro-vice chancellor Professor Philippe Burger says that, socially and economically, women in South Africa have always been in a more precarious position than men. “Thus, when a crisis like Covid-19 affects the economy, its impact on men and women is not the same, with women suffering more than men,” Burger says.
A National Income Dynamics Study report from earlier this year noted nearly 80% of women who were spending more time than usual on childcare were spending more than four extra hours a day on it, compared with 65% of men.
Even before the pandemic, households were getting poorer due to rising food prices and the increase in cost of living.
Sanlam’s head of client solutions savings, Kenosi Magosha, says its survey showed that women were three times more likely to consider themselves to be in survival mode when they didn’t have access to financial advice. “Our study also showed that only two in every 10 women have a financial adviser. This means women are not tapping into financial expertise when it comes to their financial planning in the short, medium and long term, which impacts on financial health and resilience.”
Durban clinical psychologist Nozibusiso Nyawose says the lockdown has magnified the pressure on women, who have had to juggle social expectations with additional roles such as home-schooling, under tightening financial and relationship constraints. “These increased responsibilities can be frustrating and overwhelming, leading many women to feel like they are stuck in survival mode.”
Women, she says, are already in survival mode in South Africa: not only about their health but for their lives, under constant fear. “We live in a highly unequal society, where women have to put on many different caps, take on different roles that are forced by society,” Nyawose said. “Now, the financial insecurity, compounded by health concerns, forces women to step up.”
The best way to reduce stress is to make a plan, she said. “As a psychologist, I always advise meditation, taking time off, championing new ways and strategies to win. It’s a good time for introspection – if you have financial challenges, find out how these have accumulated. How are you planning, budgeting, have you reprioritised? For women, sometimes we don’t seek financial advice – we look for help with relationship issues but not finances.
“As women, we run out of money before men – we not only focus on ourselves, but our family, and sacrifice more than men financially. Men tend to be more selfish; we spend more on children. Men generally wouldn’t find such things important. This creates emotional stress. We also tend to be more predisposed to mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.”