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By Henrietta J. Burroughs                                 Follow East Palo Alto Today on
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May 28, 2020                                         EPA Today Facebook page Follow epatoday on Twitter EPA Today Blog Icon


List of critical areas of concern

Courtesy of https://beijing20.unwomen.org/


Most of us are already familiar with the impact that the coronavirus (COVID-19) has had on countries around the world. We get news daily about how it has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide, has negatively impacted the economy of many countries, caused a multitude of business closures, increased unemployment, left countless families unable to buy food and pay their rent and has caused untold stress and anxiety.

But, what many might not know is that COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on women, as a group. Just before the Memorial Day weekend, ninety ethnic media journalists, hosted by Ethnic Media Services founder, Sandy Close, participated in an online video conference, to hear six experts discuss just how destructive COVID-19 has been to women around the world.

Pilar Marrero, contributing editor for Ethnic Media Services, moderated the online conference, which was called The Shadow Pandemic-COVID-19's Impact on Women.

Screenshot from the COVID-19 discussion
Screenshot from The Shadow Pandemic-COVID-19's Impact on Women conference

The speakers included: Dr. Tung Nguyen, Prof, UCSF Health Division of General Internal Medicine; Beatrice Duncan, Policy Advisor for the Rule of Law for United Nations Women; C Nicole Mason, Pres. & CEO Institute for Women’s Policy Research; Estela Rivero, research fellow for the University of Notre Dame’s Pulte Institute for Global Development and Kirsten Swinth, a history professor at Fordham University and Dr. Mimi Lind, Dir. of Behavioral Health Services at the Venice Family Clinic.

According to Dr. Nguyen, the latest data shows that the burden of COVID-19 is disproportionately on minorities with African Americans and Latinx ages 18 to 49 dying from COVID-19 at the rate two and a half times that of their white counterparts.  “The Navajo nation in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah now has the highest infection rate for a population higher than the state of New York. Pacific Islanders and other Asian Americans are also disproportionately affected.

While men have a greater chance of dying of the virus, women have a much better chance of survival. But,  their survival comes at a steep cost, since COVID-19’s disastrous effects on economies around the world and the shelter-in-place/stay at home policies many countries have enacted put women are at a serious disadvantage.

 In her slide presentation, Estela Rivero showed how COVID-19 has exacerbated the burdens women already carry because of their gender. “Throughout the world,” Rivero stated, “women are responsible for most of the unpaid housework and caregiving, in addition to being engaged in paid employment. This unequal distribution of labor affects women’s economic opportunities, resting time, and bargaining power.”

Rivero concluded, “COVID-19 is increasing the time that needs to be spent on housework and caregiving, and women are the most likely to bear this burden,[since] everywhere in the world women work more hours than men.”

Beatrice Duncan pointed out the irony of the fact that prior to COVID-19, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women was prepared to celebrate the achievements and strides that women had made  since the adoption in 1995 of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which some have considered the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights.

Now, Duncan stated that because of COVID-19, the advances and progress women have made are actually being set back in a very serious way.

She cited such factors as: the threefold spike in the incidence of intimate partner violence or domestic violence; the fact that women are not getting the protection they need from the police in some countries; the difficulty women have had in getting restraining orders since courts have been closed; the required spousal and child support payments are not being paid, and the spike in unpaid care work, since women find themselves at home at least 99.9% of the time now.

Also, since women are not receiving the necessary services they need around sexual and reproductive health, in a lot of countries, the rates of maternal mortality are increasing.

Duncan also pointed out “that there is a spike in some … harmful traditional practices,” such as female genital mutilation and the give off of daughters, below the age of 18 in marriage.

Following Duncan, C Nicole Mason, also acknowledged the many gains women had made pre-COVID-19. But she said that even though they were 51% of the labor force, “many women and families were still struggling to make ends meet and that measuring the economy by… low levels of unemployment in the stock market didn't quite capture the day to day realities of many women and families. And COVID-19 has really exposed some of the route fragility of our economic and social and political systems.”

Mason pointed out that of the more than 30 million jobless claims that were filed in the U.S., women make up a disproportionate amount of the claims because of their overrepresentation in the service sector in fields like healthcare, education, leisure and hospitality. Their unemployment rate now hovers around 15five times what it was just a month and a half ago.

 With the closing of schools, women have also had to perform multiple roles of educator, worker and childcare provider. Those, who are now considered essential workers, are having to make really tough choices between being able to take care of their families and make a living.

So, given their economic vulnerability, the wage inequality, and the increase in gender-based violence, Mason noted that women will, consequently, have a harder time when it comes to making a recovery both during and after COVID-19.
But, as gloomy as everything seemed, Mason pointed to the fact that in times of economic stress like the Great Depression in the 1930’s, some employers provided On site childcare for working families. “And even in this moment,” she said, “we have things that we thought were impossible to implement, like paid sick leave at the federal level and the idea of a basic income, which some were saying was impossible are all of a sudden getting closer to reality, like and our current relief packages.

Continuing the idea of potentially positive outcomes, Prof. Kirsten Swinth, highlighted two historical events to to answer the question of whether a crisis can open the door to greater equity and to advances for women? She used the 1918-1919 Spanish flu epidemic that killed 675,000 Americans and the 1930s Great Depression, where unemployment levels were similar to those of today in the US to show what history can teaches us how these crises can lead to the expansion of experiences and opportunities for women.

She said that the flu pandemic spreading across the U.S. led to tens of thousands of nurses, organized by the American Red Cross into two distinct networks: the first, the Army Nurse Corps, which brought 24,000 nurses  to work for the military and the second, nurses organized by the American Red Cross to work domestically. The black nurses who traditionally served black hospitals and black communities began to serve in white communities, because of the pandemic.

“Nurses were idealized as heroines.” Swinth said, “through the pandemic and also through their work for the US war effort during World War One. Remember that the flu pandemic and World War One are very much overlapping endeavors. Their service nurses service was often cited in support of women's suffrage. The battle for the right for women's right to vote in the United States was in full swing, mobilizing millions of women across the country. And the battle for the 19th amendment actually continued across the flu pandemic.”

“When employed women during the 30’s faced incredible hostility, and that hostility fell particularly hard on women of color…. Women were also drawn more broadly into the decades surge of labor activism. Female union membership in the 1930’s increased to 300%. So … in the face of severe unemployment, there are ways that women are drawn into activism…. Deeply relevant to today's experience was a wave of housewife led militancy and consumer strikes.”

“I think,” Swinth said in ending her remarks, “that it's possible that valorized nurses and female essential workers could be leveraged to advance crucial aims of better pay and improved working conditions and caring professions.

“I think that fears of getting sick on the job, along with their anger at terrible pay, may bolster unionization. For frontline low paid service workers where women predominate, we are already seeing calls for organizing rent strikes, campaigns for affordable housing, and other ways to reduce the cost of living, as well as barter networks that parallel those of the 1930’s.

“And the analogy to the present is that nothing happens automatically, that crises in and of themselves don't lead to greater change or advancement for women's equity. Rather change that produces equity happens because of organized activism in response to gaping at inadequacies, inadequacies of the system that crisis exposes.”

Lind was the online session’s last presenter. In speaking about domestic violence, she said that it was as much a pandemic as is the COVID-19 pandemic, since “It’s across all cultures, all counties, all small villages, in huge cities....It's across the board in Boston, in Costa Rica, in Hawaii and Los Angeles…. And everywhere I go, I hear about communities and domestic violence. And so it truly is cross cultural.” It also increases with unemployment.

If anything, the ethnic journalist who attended The Shadow Pandemic online discussion heard the session go from doom and gloom to the idea that COVID-19  could lead to some sweeping changes being made, especially, in the U.S. as we adjust to the changes around us.

With all of the devastating impacts that the virus has had on the status of women around the world, perhaps, a statement Mason made, during her presentation, best sums up the impact of COVID-19 as an historical phenomenon. Mason said, “This is a really unprecedented time, and I feel we keep saying it, but it really is an extraordinary moment, and one that will define us for generations to come.”


The author of the above article, Henrietta J. Burroughs, can be contacted by email at epatoday@epatoday.org