One of the Six Challenges Issues that the Women’s Ministries Department at the General Conference (GCWM) has focused on since its inception in 1990 is “women’s workloads.”
A simple web search on this issue reveals headlines like: “Women’s Workload and Its Impact on Their Health”; “The Invisible Workload That Drags Women Down”; and “There’s a Stress Gap Between Men and Women. Here’s Why…” Society recognizes women bear a disproportionate amount of responsibility that weighs heavily on their physical, emotional, spiritual, social, relational, and economic well-being.
Women who choose to work outside the home also have the domestic economy inside the home to manage. In a New York Times article dated November 14, 2018, columnist Kristin Wong referenced a United Nations report showing that “women do nearly three times as much unpaid domestic work as men. The problem is, housework is often overlooked as work, even though it is often as laborious (or in some cases, more so) as any paid job.”
Here’s a practical example: An older woman works as an office assistant for a primary school. She leaves the house early in the morning after preparing breakfast for her family, arrives at the school, and begins her workday. She leaves the office in the afternoon, stops at a grocery store to buy a few things, and arrives home to find that, after her already long day, she is expected to make dinner, finish the laundry, straighten the house and prepare for the next day. The assumption is unspoken, but there, regardless—and the woman feels it.
This idea is termed “emotional labor.” Emotional labor is defined as “the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the emotional requirements of a job”—the mental work involved in making other people feel happy and content when you do not feel that way. Women often feel internal pressure to succeed at every level of responsibility and if they don’t reach their set ideal, feelings of inadequacy or guilt threaten to overwhelm them, leading to anxiety and stress.
The Main Concern
In an article published by the Adventist Review in June 2021, the GCWM department and Guadalupe Alvarado, a family therapist, note that “balancing societal expectations for maintaining an intact and healthy family while achieving in a highly competitive work environment results in long days and limited rest and recreation. Literature on women’s health identifies chronic fatigue syndrome as a growing phenomenon among women in both poor and affluent countries. The COVID-19 crisis has contributed to overloading women. And the September McKinsey study shows more women than men reporting exhaustion, burnout, and pressure to work more.” 
This is not an isolated issue. “Women from all cultures around the world experience the challenge of excessive workload. Prevailing issues such as equal opportunity challenges, political and economic transitions, strict social and cultural norms and the slow process of change makes progress difficult,” GCWM leaders note. The underlying concern here is that “these challenges diminish the time women spend in enriching their spiritual lives through Bible study, prayer, and devotional time with God.”
Heather-Dawn Small, GCWM director says, “We have tried through the years to nurture our sisters by empowering them to manage their time better, emphasize the importance of delegating, while also promoting self-care. Once women realize that looking after themselves spiritually, physically, emotionally and socially is vital, it enables them to better deal with their workloads.”
Local Church Ministry
What can a local church do to meet the needs of women in the community who may be experiencing emotional, physical and social burnout? GCWM has provided some excellent resources for members’ use.
Before any ministry begins, it’s important to survey the local area to see what needs are most urgent. Then, those interested in this ministry need to alert women in the church and community of the diverse opportunities for service in this aspect of ministry; organize a prayer team to pray for the ministry; prioritize plans and programs according to the most urgent needs identified in a community survey; form a project team, select a coordinator, and delegate duties for each individual. It’s important to work with the church pastor and include other church departments such as community services, deacons and deaconesses, Children’s, Family, Health, and Women’s Ministries.
The GCWM offers these suggestions for organizing events, programs, educational seminars and resources for women in their local community:
• Offer Bible Studies for Busy Women (a GC Women’s Ministries resource),
• Provide child care facilities to enable mothers to attend seminars,
• Plan a “Day of Rest” – a special meeting for mothers while a team takes care of their children,
• Sponsor emotional resilience workshops,
• Organize health seminars on coping with fatigue, looking after yourself, and wellness tips,
• Offer life-balance seminars, seminars for working mothers, seminars on how to simplify and organize household tasks, seminars on self-esteem, building confidence, and overcoming feelings of guilt, or stress management and relaxation classes.
As believers, our ultimate goal is to introduce others to the freedom, healing and hope found in Jesus. What can you do to relieve someone’s burden today? For more resources and ideas, visit women.adventist.org.