Gendered COVID-19: How Scotland Experienced the Lockdown

Balcony clapping during Covid19

Guest Writers: Shan-Jan Sarah Liu, Lauren Hall-Lew, Clare Llewellyn, Nina Markl, Stephen McNulty

On 24 March 2020, Scotland residents entered their first day of the lockdown, described by the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, as “stringent restrictions on our normal day to day lives.” This news came as little surprise as many countries across the world had themselves already gone into lockdown with the hope of preventing further spread of coronavirus. Such strict health measures are unprecedented in recent memory. The scale of their impact is only just being uncovered. To document the experiences of people from across Edinburgh and the Lothians, we collected (and still are collecting) video and audio diaries of residents through Lothian Lockdown: The Lothian Diary Project. In collaboration and partnership with Museums and Galleries Edinburgh and Scottish Parliament, we will share the knowledge generated from this project to better equip residents and policymakers in their collective battle against the current pandemic, as well as future public health crises. With local charities, civic organisations, and businesses, we are also working towards bringing the community together in these trying times.

What is our data collection method and why is it unique?

Our interdisciplinary team consists of researchers from across Colleges at the University of Edinburgh. On 25th May 2020 we began to collect personal audio and video diaries from Edinburgh and Lothian residents. Combining this large, novel data source with a parallel dataset of survey responses, we explore how residents experience the pandemic and the lockdown and how their demographics influence their experiences.

Our time-sensitive collection of raw, participant-driven descriptions is highly distinct from researcher-led approaches. This setup gives participants some agency as it allows them to share their thoughts on any aspect of their experience, define their own issues, and disclose what they find relevant. Diaries can reveal how individuals are affected by the crisis in ways that are context-sensitive to identity. Our data analysis will relate to issues in our respective research areas of politics, psychoanalytic theory, social network analysis, and sociolinguistics.

Who has participated in our study?

Our ongoing data collection comprises diary submissions and survey questionnaires from 103 participants. Approximately 2/3 of our participants identify as women as shown in Figure 1. Most of the participants are white, aged between 20-50 years old, hold a university degree, and have a household income of more than £20,000. Roughly half of them have lived in the Lothians region for at least 20 years. A majority also describe themselves as employed and were not officially designated as key-workers at the time of their contribution. Nearly a quarter report to be living alone during the pandemic. In all these respects, our sample is not representative of the population of Edinburgh and the Lothians. Indeed, those who have self-selected into our study so far are the ones that may have been the least impacted by COVID-19: white, educated, and middle-aged.


Figure 1: Participant responses by gender

What did we find?

In our preliminary analysis of the diaries in which participants tell us about their lockdown experiences, many common words used by participants surface. Lockdown, people, time, thing, work, and friends are the most frequent content words used by participants. Many participants discuss the challenges they face, such as living alone and not being able to see family and friends.

Although these common themes cut across participants, the frequency with which these words are used may differ somewhat by gender. For example, while all genders likely to mention work before mentioning home, our preliminary analysis (before accounting for other factors), suggests that women use the words feel and life at a higher rate than men. Additionally, women seem to use some words that men tend not to use much, such as family. Looking more closely, there also seems to be differences in how women and men describe their work situation. For example, some women say that they really enjoy doing work at home whereas some men describe that they are still looking for work.

The survey furthermore suggests that the experience of working from home as a caregiver is gendered, as many respondents who care for children in their home are women, most of whom have worked more or the same number of hours during lockdown as before. None of the contributions submitted so far mention gender-based violence (GBV), which has increased during lockdowns. This is unsurprising, given the conditions of data collection that ask the participants to tell their stories, on camera, to an essentially unknown team of university researchers. Any mention of GBV would likely be perceived as a high-risk disclosure. Furthermore, preliminary content analysis suggests a surprisingly high report of optimism, positivity, and “looking on the bright side” in these video contributions; more so than the kind of discourses we encounter in our day-to-day lives. It could be that more balanced representations of experience will become evident as we begin to analyse the survey responses, although again this method seems unlikely to reveal specific mention of GBV.

Where do we go from here?

With our existing data, we continue to link diaries and surveys to analyse the common patterns across their experiences and how their personal traits play a role in their experiences. In the future, we will also conduct statistical analysis of the survey responses, a qualitative analysis of the video diary contents, and a linguistic analysis of the speeches. Our study will offer important implications for how one experiences lockdown and how their experiences can compare to others’ in the same region.


The contact information for the Lothian Lockdown Project is Lauren Hall-Lew

Featured Photo by Manuel Peris Tirado on Unsplash

Writer Bios

Shan-Jan Sarah Liu is a Lecturer in the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on the cross-national comparison of gender and politics, with a special focus on Asia. She tweets from @DrSarahLiu.

Lauren Hall-Lew is Reader in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on language variation and change, especially phonetic variation in different Englishes. She tweets from @dialect.

Clare Llewellyn is a Career Development Fellow in the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on developing data analysis techniques, particularly in natural language processing, to answer political science questions. She tweets from @clarellewellyn.

Nina Markl is a PhD student in the UKRI CDT for Natural Language Processing at the University of Edinburgh. She focuses on the intersection of language variation and language technology. Twitter: @sociofauxnetic

Stephen Joseph McNulty is a 3rd year PhD candidate in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh. His research concerns language policy as it is created, implemented, endorsed or resisted within minoritised language contexts. His PhD topic focuses specifically on the topic of language management in Northern and Southern Catalan social media. He tweets from @StephenJMcNulty, Web: