How school closures affect working mothers in Japan
I had a chance to share my insights and thoughts on how the coronavirus and school closures affect working mothers in Japan with journalists in England, UK. As a working mother and small business owner in Tokyo, Japan, I’d like to share them in my blog as well.
I am a social entrepreneur who started a school four years ago for working mothers and their kids in Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo. I wanted to help them because they are with little help in terms of balancing career advancement and childrearing/education for kids in the big city like Tokyo. I also wanted to apply what I learned from the program, MSc in Gender and Social Policy at LSE.
The school provides after-school English lessons and cares to Japanese primary schoolchildren on weekdays in the community when the mothers are working. I hold workshops too for the working mothers on weekends to help them have tips for work-life balance. This article from Business Insider in English has a picture of what I am doing for them. This covers women, work and fertility in Japan.
Here are some questions related to the school closures and working mothers in Japan and my answers to them.
Q1. What has been your experience as a working mother and small business owner during the school closure period?
Working mothers including me have faced more work at home during the school closure than we usually do. Nowadays most of the working mothers can work from home because of the coronavirus spread around. That means that we have work, childcare, and household such as preparing for lunch at the same at home. This environment makes it difficult for many working mothers to get their work done as planned. This could also increase stress both for the mothers and the kids. The mothers can barely have break time neither. That’s why I have kept my after-school program opened. I wanted to help the working mothers during the school closure because the school provides not only English lessons for the kids but also daycare service for the working mothers.
Many after school programs operated by local governments have opened from morning to night throughout Japan for working parents too. Many have faced difficulties in allocating the staff who could work from morning because the request from the government was so sudden.
Although many employees are now advised to work from home, there are a couple of days a week for many to take trains to have a client meeting or do things at the office. As long as parents are working under the condition, having schools closed does not help stop the virus entirely from spreading in the country. I think there needs to be some restrictions done in economic activities of adults too because adults do more activities in terms of distance and places they travel for work/daily lives than kids.
Q2. How are you managing your childcare, do you have a partner or parents to help?
I have my husband who works from home to take care of a son who is 9 years old. Our son can do things on his own now such as bathing and doing his homework as he is nine years old already. So he does not need as much childcare now as he needed when he was younger. I am happy in that I can spend more time a day with my son now. However, as I mentioned above, I cannot get my work done as planned because I have got more things to do when I work from home in the morning. In the afternoon, I go to my school to work.
There are always supports available from our parents and baby sitting services. We have support from the parents on weekends as they are not retired yet and still working.
Things would be different if we had more kids. We don’t use the baby sitting services because either my husband or I could be at home to take care of our son. We could send him to an after school program offered by the local government during the school closure but do not send him there because we avoid a crowd in the class room.
Q3. Do you feel like your business is being impacted because of this policy?
Yes, my business has been impacted to some extent because of the school closure. Although most of the students at my school still come to the lesson, some parents have informed that they would not attend the lesson for a certain period of time. That’s completely understandable as a parent to protect the kids though. In that case, it is reasonable for me to refund the tuition. Despite this affecting the income of the business, I have no access to the compensation. As you guess, individual business owners are not receiving the compensation. We are just accessible to loans. There must be many small business owners like me who have faced decrease of income because of cancellation of lessons and events.
Q4. Do fathers commonly work from home to help with child care when schools are closed?
More than 50% of employees are now working from home. So,
yes, fathers also work from home and help children. My husband works for a big company as an engineer and a consultant and has been advised by his company to work from home everyday for our 9 year old son. Other fathers also help with child care at home during the school closure. Fathers help kids study and take them outside to play when they have break time. When it comes to child care for primary schoolchildren, it requires more support for educational development than kind of care kids needed when they were younger.
My husband took our son to his parents’ house today for our son to spend time together with his grandparents over the weekend. My son was really looking forward to it as he has now limitations in his life because of the school closures.
There are also supports available from my parent and baby sitting services. We have support from the parents on weekends as they are not retired yet and still working.
Things would be different if we had more kids. We don’t use the baby sitting services because either my husband or I could be at home to take care of our son. We could send him to an after school program offered by the local government during the school closure but do not send him there because we avoid a crowd in the after-school club.
Q5 Do you feel like the way that the government has handled this situation has been fair to mothers?
I would say yes to the mothers who have secure full-time jobs and husbands but say no to the single mothers with less secure job and income even before the corona outbreak. I found a survey on how the school closures affect single mothers, and it says that about 40% of the surveyed single moms will face decrease in their income during the closure. They need additional support from the government, which has not been handled yet,
Mothers who are small business owners like me are also facing more challenges as I mentioned about the compensation above. Small businesses are more likely to have less resources and thus be affected worse by the corona outbreak. However, what the government handles now is not fair, which contradicts with the current government policy to promote diversity in Japan including gender equality, diverse working styles, freelancers, and start-ups.
I think having schools closed does not help stop the virus entirely from spreading in the country. It increases the burden of many mothers. I think there needs to be some restrictions done in economic activities of adults too because adults do more activities in terms of distance and places they travel for work/daily lives than kids. At the same time, the governments need to take measures for vulnerable people such as small business owners and single parent families.