We Know COVID-19 Disproportionately Affects Women. Here’s How We Fight Back.
Since the coronavirus reached the U.S. in early 2020, over 210,000 lives have been lost, more than 20 million people have been infected, the economy has taken a hard hit, and our educational system has been upended. While most, if not all, people in this country have been impacted, widespread disease outbreaks have historically been disproportionately tough on women, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been no exception. From greater incidence of job loss to higher rates of domestic abuse, the patriarchal structure maintains its shape even in international chaos.
While it’s true that women are bearing the brunt of the consequences of this pandemic, it’s also true that women possess extraordinary resilience and the unlimited power of a community that stands up for one another. In this spirit, Supermajority News spoke to several experts, who helped compile several concrete, direct actions that anyone can take to support those affected.
Loss of Employment
We know that more women than men are leaving their employment to facilitate at-home learning and care for their kids. As a result, women are facing reduced financial independence and future career prospects. But there are resources women in this position can rely on for support, including the job protection provided through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which guarantees many workers up to several weeks paid time off to care for their children if schools are closed due to coronavirus.
Leng Leng Chancey, executive director of the national working women’s association 9to5, also noted that if women are experiencing workplace discrimination in response to a COVID-related issue, like needing to care for children while working from home, they can call A Better Balance — a law center for women with families facing workplace discrimination. They are also accepting donations for their COVID-19 emergency legal fund on their website.
9to5 has also set up a Rapid Response Care Fund “to support community members who are struggling with job loss, reduced hours and loss of income, caregiving for children and elders, and lack of paid sick leave and healthcare,” Chancey told Supermajority News. If you’d like to help, donating what you can is a quick way to get funds directly to women and families in need.
Chancey also says the kind of policy 9to5 usually fights for, such as paid sick leave for all, is doubly crucial during COVID. You can stay involved with 9to5 and the work they’re doing by signing up for updates at 9to5.org/JoinUs.
While quarantining is an essential part of the fight to stop the spread of the coronavirus, home is not a safe place for all Americans. The sad truth is that lockdowns trap domestic violence victims in close quarters with their abusers. Closed schools and virtual-only contact with mandatory reporters like teachers and doctors means abuse is more likely to go unnoticed. Donating to the National Domestic Violence Hotline is a great place to start helping. Survivors who can’t get the privacy to make a phone call can text 1-866-331-9474 or chat online to receive help 24/7.
Connecting child abuse victims with help during the pandemic is, unfortunately, even more tricky, since kids often can’t advocate for themselves. We spoke with University of Pennsylvania professor and leading church-state scholar, Marci Hamilton, founder of Child USA which works to end child abuse and neglect. She told Supermajority News that, since over half of child abuse reports come from teachers, and many kinds of child abuse are not detectable via virtual learning, “funding for education and free connectivity/devices for all children” is one of the most critical issues in the fight against child abuse during the pandemic. “If all children [could] get online and be seen by their teachers, and schools had enough employees to do individual check-ins…during the pandemic, it would make a huge difference,” Hamilton added.
If you can donate or fundraise on a local level for specific schools, that’s great. If you have any educational funding measures on your ballot this November, which you can find here, vote your conscience! Plus, those workers that continue to go into homes for welfare checks need PPE donations. Hamilton also said that if you see something concerning in your community, you need to be prepared to contact authorities. “Many times adults feel like they are ‘telling’ on other adults… but the answer is to change the culture from one where adults protect each other to one where they are looking out for children who many times can’t look out for themselves.”
Frontline Job Danger
More women than men are employed in lower-paying frontline jobs, like cleaners, hospitality workers, restaurant staff, nursing aides, senior caretakers, and others, and are unlikely to be able to work from home or have truly “safe” in-person options. Sarah David Heydemann, senior counsel for workplace justice with the National Women’s Law Center, told Supermajority News that the best way to support “working people fighting to change their workplace is to find an organization you believe in, join it, and organize with your community.” And the good news is, the National Labor Relations Act “makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for engaging in collective action to make their workplace better – like organizing a union.”
Sometimes, however, the fight for workplace justice starts at home. Those who have domestic employees, like a nanny or housekeeper, can make an impact by treating them well. Heydemann recommends this guide from the Domestic Employers’ Network to help employers create clear written agreements with the folks who work for them to ensure everyone is taken care of during COVID. Heydemann also encourages those in positions of power at their workplace to “speak up to support those at your workplace who may be abused,” and “blow the whistle on abusive and illegal behavior.”
Heydemann also told Supermajority News about two important laws the House passed that would help protect female workers’ rights, but which are now stalled in the Senate. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act would, among other things, prevent employers from denying their employees certain rights and benefits by miscategorizing them as independent contractors, and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would “extend collective bargaining rights to public service workers across the country, a majority of whom are women.”
People can find their senators’ contact info here and give them a call to urge them to pass these bills. Sites like 5calls.org give callers an easy script to read to make placing the call even easier.