In Depth Society, 24/05/2020

‘Quarantine as Resource:’ Women’s Perspective on New Lifestyle

Long-lasting quarantine is a new phenomenon for everyone. How to adapt to the new conditions of family isolation, distance work and continuous incarceration under the same roof of all members of a household? The pace of life has changed for many people in an unusual state. Under the new conditions, women are burdened even more with housework and 24/7 living with family members than in the “pre-quarantine” period, and it’s a major challenge to find answers to the question of how to deal with it.

The Centre of Gender Culture started the marathon of women’s stories on how to find a resource under new conditions.

Kharkiv Observer correspondent talked to three project participants who kindly agreed to share their stories about how they coped with a new lifestyle under quarantine.

Iryna Zhuchok, 27 years old, is a certified primary school teacher, but instead works as a teacher-organizer, she also teaches the basics of health and handicraft in Smirnivsky Lyceum in the town of Lozova, the Kharkiv region. “I have dreamed about the profession of a teacher since childhood, I remember how I played with my friends “School” game, so my dream came true, I have been working in this institution for the third year. I sure do love my job,” Iryna admits.

Asya Schastlivtseva, 44 years old, started a new life at least three times. Firstly, she left the career of an auditor in Kramatorsk, the Donetsk region, and made a decision to study journalism in Poland, then she settled with her husband in Chmyrivka in the Chyhyryn region. The war in the east dramatically changed Asya’s life. It helped the woman to find herself and discover new opportunities. Currently the couple lives in Kharkiv where Asya had to start her life from scratch. Asya’s hobby turned into a “sweet” business – a small production of healthy dainties. Dried fruit in chocolate like kiwi, apples, bananas, oranges as well as homemade chocolate are among the products she makes with love and respect to her clients.

Natalia Koval, 48 years old, went from being a teacher in the university to the head of Yupiter farm. After graduating from university, she had some experience in business and accounting, and after the birth of her first child, she decided to continue her studies and entered the graduate school of the Kharkiv National Economic University, after graduating she became a teacher at university. Natalia decided not to defend her Ph.D. thesis, although it was almost completed. Now she is implementing its results during her current work: “all the knowledge I gained was useful to me,” she notes. Natalia and her husband came up with the idea to start farming in early 2012, and by the end of the year it was brought to life. Now they have livestock totaling 640. As of today, 35 people work at the farm. The farm produces high-quality milk that they sell in the nearby village, a few shops in Kharkiv and delivers to Kyiv milk plant.

Kharkiv Observer: How has quarantine changed your and your family members’ lives?

Iryna Zhuchok: My life during the quarantine has not changed a lot. I use distance learning to teach my pupils. I try to keep in touch with my students and colleagues on social networks. I also have to master various online platforms.

Natalia Koval: At the Center of Gender Culture, I entered courses for women wanting to export their products which was conducted by the project’s coordinator Daria Nahaivska. I met interesting women and made friends with some of them. Currently, we communicate only on the phone or social networks and I miss face-to-face meetings.

Kh.O.: What adjustments had to be made in your life during quarantine? How do you manage to keep your business afloat during these tough times?

N.K.: Life during quarantine is like hurdles now –the distance is the same, but sometimes there is unexpectedness!

Cows do not practice self-isolation and self-sufficiency so we have to provide nonstop work of our farm during the quarantine. It is necessary to take urgent measures to provide masks and gloves for the farm staff as well as for my family members including myself, my husband and his mother so I buy protection equipment for everyone.

My husband and I made a decision do not stop working while my father and our teenage sons are quarantined.

Currently, there are more difficulties during quarantine such as interactions with our counterparts. Some of them have quarantined. For example, we needed to buy paint and it’s not easy as it used to be as we have to order it through the Internet. We get the necessary items via Nova Poshta (New Post Office) and order them from the Rozetka site.

Our processing units have much more work now. People who used to come to their summer houses at the weekend moved to the countryside to live here for a quarantine period and our dairy products are in greater demand.

Asya Schastlivtseva: My husband and I moved to Kharkiv four months ago and we had to stick around here due to quarantine. Current circumstances fostered me to keep my “sweet” business going.

I have to run my business online now: I expand my social circle, make videos of my products and post them on my Facebook page and Instagram. I try to find the words to explain the uniqueness of my products which are both tasty and healthy.

Kh.O.: Asyu, How did your hobby turn gradually into a “sweet” business?

A.S.: When I lived in the Cherkasy region, I started exploring herbs, berries, plants and roots professionally. During these years, I gained Ukrainian ancient knowledge and secrets from female healers. Firstly, I made my products for my family and relatives. Then I found out that healthy food is in great demand and my hobby turned into a business.

Kh.O.: Natalyu, Why did you decide to change the profession of university teacher into the farm manager?

N.K.: I graduated from the Kharkiv National University of Economics. As it was hard to find a job in the 1990s, I had to take custom officers’ courses and worked at the carpet factory as a customs officer. There were tough times for the factory and I was invited to a private company as an economist and later I was offered the job of a chief accountant. In a while, I opened my agro-processing firm but over time I returned to the accountancy job.

My husband was a successful businessman when I was on maternity leave having my first son in 2001. After 6 months of bringing up my baby, I realized my husband was self-developing through studying and meeting new people and when he returned from his business trips there was not much we could discuss as we lived in separate worlds that had very few commonalities. I felt that something had to be changed.

Kh.O.: Natalyu, Are you a leader by nature?

N.K.: I never want to look weak and expect support from a man. I try to use my abilities to be successful though I can’t tell I’m a leader by nature. I’m happy when things are moving forward but that’s no reason to rest on my laurels. In my work, I can deal with people, motivate a person to do his or her job and convince them we are moving in the right direction.

Kh.O.: Natalyu, What line of business did you choose after maternity leave?

N.K.: After 6 months of maternity leave, I decided to change something in my life as I aimed to self-develop. So, I decided to enter the postgraduate program in Economics. In a year, I had to take a break for my second maternity leave and due to problems in my family. I returned to studying but didn’t defend my Ph.D. thesis as it wasn’t my goal. I wanted to develop my cognitive knowledge.

After graduation, I worked as a university teacher. In 2012, my husband Andrii lost his job. When he was between jobs, he entered Kharkiv State Veterinary Academy and got a zootechnician degree. Andriy paid attention that I tried to find high-quality milk for my kids and suggested to start a farm business. In December 2012, he managed to find a job in Donetsk. Before he left, he purchased a farm in the village of Khotimlya, Vovchansk district, helped choose milking machines and made an agreement with designers who began to build the farm. Since March 2013, he had been working as an enterprise director in Donetsk.

Until the end of the academic year, I combined teaching and farming and I was studying farming while setting up the farm. Currently we keep the farm called “Yupiter.”

Kh.O.: Does your husband work on the farm?

N.K.: No, he has his own business. He had to leave Donetsk in 2014 due to the start of the war in the east. He worked on the farm in 2015 as he was unemployed. But in 2016 he took a new job that was offered to him and since that time I have run the farm myself. He helped me a lot in 2018 and 2019. Andrii has always been a person I could rely on and ready to help when it’s needed. Now, he can see that the process is under my control that’s why he can fully concentrate on his work.

Kh.O.: Have you performed more household chores since quarantine started? Has there been more housework during quarantine? How are domestic responsibilities shared among family members? Has anything changed during quarantine? Do your family members help more or less around the house?

I.Zh.: I live in the village, so we always have a busy schedule here. We do not have a distribution of domestic responsibilities; we are all used to working together. We do all the housework and then have a good rest together. That’s why we do not have any problems with housework.

A.S.: When we lived in the countryside, my husband helped me with the work in the backyard and in the garden. But since we have lived in the apartment and my husband purchased all necessary domestic appliances, I do chores myself as I know I do this work better. Doing housework is a pleasure for me. Of course, if I ask my husband, he’ll help me but I don’t think it’s necessary as it’s in my schedule.

N.K.: In my opinion, a family is an association of people that do what they want to do voluntarily. I cook for five of us not because I must do it but I just want to do it. Cooking is a sort of creative process for me and I never make the same dishes. Even my borsch is different each time.

My dad and my sons help more with cleaning up the house as they spend more time at home now. My kids are really happy about the quarantine situation. They have time to complete more work than before. Kids try to use their free time playing computer games but when I ask them to help me with the household chores, they are ready to help. Anyway, they don’t take the initiative.

I don’t expect my husband will be willing to cook or my children will start cleaning up. But sometimes my husband cooks his specialties. Since we have purchased a slow cooker, my family members cook more often and even create new dishes, especially my younger son.

Kh.O.: Iryno, How has your son’s life changed since quarantine started? Is it harder to study at home?

I.Zh.: My son Maksym is a fourth-grader. He usually gets good marks but has difficulties with English as all my family members studied German and no one in my family can help him. When distance learning started, he enjoyed doing it on the Internet, especially that he didn’t have to go to school and could sleep as much as he wanted, but it lasted a couple of weeks. Now he is looking forward to going to school as he is bored with distance learning.

Kh.O.: Iryno, Who helps your son do his homework during quarantine?

I.Zh.: I help my son with his homework and nothing has changed during the quarantine. I teach him and in turn I learn from him.

Kh.O.: Iryno, was it easy to adjust to online education, learn special platforms, maintain contact with parents and children?

I.Zh.: When quarantine started, there was chaos in my mind: what it would be like and how to organize everything properly? It was not easy to switch to online learning, because as it turned out, not every child has the Internet and modern gadgets. But gradually everything started to get better. I try to keep in touch with parents and students. But still, I feel a lack of live communication.

Kh.O.: Who is now the main wage-earner in your family?

I.Zh.: The main wage-earner in our family has always been my husband Dmytro and I like it.

N.K.: My husband is a top earner in our family as the farm is still at the formation stage and everything we get from the farm goes back to its development.

A.S. Currently my “sweet” business lets me make more money than my husband does. But he’s always ready to help and delivers products to my clients. I consider I managed to find my niche which both lets me earn money and enjoy my work.

Kh.O.: How do men and women react to new conditions that quarantine imposed on us?

I.Zh.: Quarantine affected both men and women but in different ways. For men, this is a loss of paid work because there is a stereotype that men are the main breadwinners. And it is difficult for women because they are more sociable by nature, and contacts with other people are limited during self-isolation.

Kh.O.: Do you and your family members have psychological problems because you spend more time under one roof?

N.K.: My husband and I don’t spend much time at home and we don’t have any psychological problems. I consider if people got along well before quarantine when they worked outside the home, they feel comfortable staying at home. But if the couple had hidden problems and they did not have time to sort them out when they were busy, these challenges come out because there are no distractions as they stay face to face being locked down. So, in my opinion, there should be a mutual understanding between a man and a woman. This way, quarantine doesn’t have any chance to break relationships.

I.Zh.: There are no psychological problems in our family. On the contrary, I have more time to spend with my close people. Our family gatherings at one table have resumed, we play various games, have fun and even went fishing. Before quarantine we met together only in the evening.

A.S. I consider it isn’t the right time for arguments. I realize that when my beloved one goes outdoors, he is at risk to catch the virus and I might lose him in a few weeks. For me, during such tough times we can’t quarrel with our loved ones but give them extra care.

Kh.O.: According to psychologists, to maintain his or her mental health a person needs to be engaged in physical activity.  Do you do morning exercises, outdoor walks with all safety precautions?

I.Zh.: We do morning exercise together. Also, my son and my daughter enjoy dancing imitating movements showed online by National Online School. We work in the garden and in the evening we ride bicycles. We take into account safety precautions and even made protective masks together with my children.

A.S.: My husband and I do exercises together. As for walking, it’s combined with my business. For example, I deliver my orders in my neighborhood. I do more physical activities at home during quarantine because I spend less time outdoors now. My husband started working with weights.

N.K.: I run around the farm and my activity reaches 10,000 steps a day. I can’t stand any sport and I’m not an athletic person at all. I do sort of stretch exercises when I clean the house or do some gardening. My husband is very fit: he can easily ride a bike around Kharkiv. He runs every day after work to get rid of negative energy. During quarantine Andrii had to stop playing tennis. My sons went to the gym before quarantine but now their only exercises are computer games.

Kh.O.: Could you adapt to the new conditions dictated by quarantine? Have you felt a new rhythm when you don’t have to rush anywhere, or you are still active and have a very busy schedule?

N.K.: We are still active and there is even more pressure due to the increasing number of people who buy our products. They don’t rush to work, spend more time at home and do more cooking. That’s why they think where to buy high-quality milk and it’s the right time when we can expand our clients’ network.

I.Zh.: Staying at home during quarantine I have more free time, I managed to get some sleep, treat my family with various delicacies, and I finally had time to do things I didn’t have time to complete in the past.

A.S.: I can’t say that my daily routine has changed since quarantine started. I work even more than I used to. Instead of outdoors walking, I’m mastering new technologies for making my products. I have to improve the photographic quality of my delicacies and post them on social networks to attract more customers.

Kh.O.: In your opinion, has coronavirus self-isolation increased domestic violence because people stay constantly together under one roof?

I.Zh.: I agree with the statement that the number of domestic violence cases has increased during the quarantine. It is very difficult to be quarantined psychologically. Abusers might become crueler due to the fact they lose their jobs, some social ties, and victims do not always have the opportunity to ask for help as staying together with an abuser in one room does not always give the person suffering from domestic violence the opportunity to call for help.

N.K.: I consider cases of domestic violence increases in families where they regularly happen. Unfortunately, I know such families as it happens in rural areas more often. I believe that patriarchal values are stronger in the countryside. It’s common here that women don’t work and take care of household chores. When we opened our farm, we employed women who had not worked before and hadn’t had any income. Taking into account the mentality of the man who earns money and thinks himself of more importance than a woman who gets nothing, there were a few waves of claims and showdowns when women started making a living. In my opinion, it happened because when a woman started getting more money than a man, she felt better about herself. Due to this fact some families have been torn apart. In other families, husbands started taking money away from their wives. For me, it’s a sensitive subject.

Recently, I had to call the police. There is a family in our village where a husband is a troubled man who used to be a drunk. Now, he gets the minimum disability pension. His wife works at the farm and makes good money. They live at her place in civil marriage with her eldest daughter from her first marriage and their two younger kids. After school, the eldest girl comes to the farm and waits for her mum there as she’s afraid to stay at home with her stepfather on her own. There is a stalemate: the girl can’t do her homework on the farm as there is no space for it. She can’t study at home due to her stepfather’s behavior either. What is the way out? In my opinion, these are sensitive issues which are not as common in the city as in the countryside.

A.S.: I haven’t experienced any conflicts during quarantine in my family. Quite the opposite, in this tough time we should understand that we are together and remain united. To become stronger, we should become more loving and avoid any arguments.

Kh.O.: Will you be able to get your life back on track easily after quarantine?

A.S.: I believe we won’t get our lives back on track as during this time we have changed and the whole world won’t be the same again. This time gave us the opportunity to make sense of something, obtain new skills. I’m not going to return to the past, I will aspire to further development.

I.Zh.: Quarantine is quarantine, but I would rather return to normal life. I miss my students even those who get on my nerves. Anyway, I love them. I’m looking forward to daily face to face classes and emotions they give me during the working day.

Kh.O.:  How do you perceive the phrase: Quarantine is a resource?

N.K.: The situation depends on each of us. We can either damage or enhance our position. This is the time when we should move forward. For example, it’s the chance for us to expand our market and we expect that people who select our products for themselves during quarantine, will become our regular customers.

We aim to do business on the Internet and target new opportunities on-line.

I.Zh.: As part of the “Center of Gender Culture Center as a Platform for Empowerment of Women and Youth” project, we are remotely working with our colleagues to create the Gender Equality Headquarter called “Kryla” (Wings), which will be located in our lyceum. Now, we make use of our time to design logos, flyers, brochures, etc. This is new knowledge, communication, acquaintances and in general lots of interesting activities.

A.S.: I found out about the project at the Center of Gender Culture two weeks before quarantine started and made a decision to take part in it. Some project participants heard about my products for the first time and ordered some “sweet” treats.

Quarantine gave us the opportunity to stop and think about our lives as we had not had time to do it before. Firstly, I had to slow down during the first week and then find new opportunities and adapt my work to new conditions and present my products. I also met new people on Facebook.

During our conversation Asya’s husband Dmytro added a few words about the current situation.

Dmytro: Quarantine made us answer the question: “Why do you live?” During this period, we are allowed to rethink our lives. Something that we used to think important becomes unnecessary. We appreciate our loved ones more, we become wiser realizing that life might finish at any moment. We are taught not to waste our life and to find positive things in each moment.

Kh.O.: What would you like to wish our readers?

I.Zh.: Stay at home, wash your hands with soap, keep active, move forward positively. Pay more attention to your loved ones. And everything will have a positive outcome!

A.S.: During this tough time, you should love and appreciate each other.

N.K.: I think people should use the time of self-isolation for self-development. If you study, you should make the topic you learn more interesting for yourself gaining extra knowledge about it. If you work, it’s the right time to decide if your job will be relevant in the future. There is no need to develop yourself in the sphere which is considered impasse and look for the area of activity that will be much in demand in the future. The world won’t be the same, it will change.

Text: Natalia Ivanova

Photo: istock, Iryna Zhuchok, Natalia Koval, Asya Schastlivtseva

The material was prepared as a part of Gender Sensitive Space of Modern Journalism, implemented by the Volyn Press Club in partnership with the Volyn Gender Center, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Internews international organization.