By Sammi Mathew, NWPC Communications Intern
The increasingly notorious virus COVID-19 has expeditiously swept the globe, and it does not discriminate. From Amy Klobuchar’s husband and the Prime Minister of England, to unprecedented numbers of healthcare workers and children at the border, everyone is at risk. Although this virus is immune to no one, there are varied ways in which COVID-19 has created gender-specific challenges, in addition to the plethora of hardships endured by the general public. These challenges range from having heightened risks to COVID-19 through their professions, the circumstances of the virus leading to higher levels of domestic violence, and abortion rights being pushed to put on hold through the pandemic. Despite these additional hurdles, women stand strong against the virus overtaking the globe.
Women are no strangers to being on the front-lines in the midst of global panic, and COVID-19 is no exception. We have seen women at the forefront of the action around the world, handling this crisis and working to ensure the safety of our families and countries. Nurses, carers for those in needs of assistance, and teachers have been some of the most vital workers we have, and particularly within the past couple of months. Of these professions, the bulk of the workforce is made up of women. 9 out of 10 nurses, 9 out of 10 senior carers, 9.7 out of 10 child carers, and 8 out of 10 K-6 teachers are all women. As women diligently fulfill these roles throughout the pandemic, they are subject to a unique disposition against the Coronavirus. Not only are the lives of women left at a higher risk while working, but their pay to do so is considerably insufficient. The average pay for caregivers in the United States is $22, 470 per year. The salary of childhood education teachers averages at $25,817 per year. Among the aforementioned careers, nurses average with the highest salary of $73,090 per year, while Certified Nursing Assistants average at $25,606 per year. According to the National Women’s Law Center, women make up 66% of people in the low-wage workforce. Among these professions, little information is to be found regarding if any have received hazard pay for continuing to work through this crisis. In addition to the lack of hazard pay, women are entering potential lethal workforces for $0.81 of every dollar a man makes within the same profession. Black, Latina, and Native American women are working for even less in comparison to men, making $0.54 to $0.62 for every dollar a man makes. Despite that women make up 9 out of 10 nurses, on average they make $6,000 less per year than male nurses. Women nurses are putting their lives at risk at a higher rate than male nurses, and receiving less pay for doing so. Furthermore, the work is not done once the job is done for the day. Given that school and childcare services are increasingly eradicated, women are expected to assume the roles of the predominant teachers and child carers at home, and are coerced into copious amounts of unpaid labor as a result. While these women work for our safety from morning to dusk, their service as a whole is overlooked and underpaid.
Alongside women, black and brown workers are left at a severe disadvantage to their health as well. Only 16.2% of Hispanic Americans and 19.7% of Black Americans have the ability to work from home through COVID-19, in comparison to the 30% of white Americans and 37% of Asian-Americans have that ability. These workers are also faced with the knowledge that without a job, they would not have access to healthcare in the event that they fell victim to getting the virus. Through the pandemic, women and minority workers are forced to gamble their lives in order to receive a paycheck.
Beyond the division of labor in the vitally important professions amid COVID-19. women are being put in positions of higher risk for more than just their health. The safety of women is jeopardized as quarantines are enforced, creating circumstances in which escaping an abuser becomes nearly impossible. The National Statistics on Domestic Violence states that one in four women experience intimate partner violence, noting the uptick America experienced after major events such as the economic downfall of 2008 and the events of 9/11. Workers are losing jobs at alarming rates while alcohol sales are simultaneously skyrocketing, creating a potentially lethal situation at home as both of these factors increase domestic violence. Within two weeks, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has received 951 calls related to COVID-19. WOMAN Inc. has received a slightly higher volume of calls in recent weeks, highlighting that women of color have a higher level of vulnerability given that they may not have or feel comfortable using resources they can use. Asian-Americans have also experienced a surge in violence in the wake of racism being carelessly tossed around by the nation’s leaders, In recent weeks, Asian-Americans have experienced extreme levels of racial brutality, ranging from being spit on to getting stabbed. Hundreds of Asians in America have begun filing reports against these attacks, although it is safe to say the reports fall short in the numbers of untold attacks that continue to take place. Families once again are facing one of America’s largest economic crises, and women and people of color are receiving the brunt of it.
Coinciding with women’s health and safety, women’s autonomy is yet another human right on the line through these trying times. Legislators across the country have made dangerous attempts to use COVID-19 as an excuse to terminate abortion rights from state to state. State officials in Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Ohio worked diligently for women’s reproductive rights to be eradicated by the government. Lawmakers exploited the pandemic to argue that eradicating abortion would drastically reduce the spread of the virus. While the consensus from judges in Oklahoma and Iowa is still pending, judges in Texas, Alabama and Ohio have deemed these claims invalid and unconstitutional. Despite that abortion is legal on a national level, and has been since the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade in 1973, pro-life lawmakers have been tireless in their fight to restrict abortion rights at the state level.
Not only has the coronavirus been used as a tool to severely impact reproductive rights, but birthing rights and access to childcare items have also faced recent shortcomings. Doulas have been unable to accompany birthing mothers in hospitals as the result of visitor restrictions, despite doulas being proven to reduce maternal mortality. Labor and delivery units have partially or entirely evolved into coronavirus units overnight. Hospitals are offering induced labor at 39 weeks, in desperation to deliver as many babies as possible before COVID-19 reaches unprecedented heights. These shortcomings are layered on top of the United States having the highest maternal mortality rate among high-income countries, at 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, The maternal mortality for black women is significantly greater, reaching 2.5 times higher than that of white women. Hospitals are facing unprecedented challenges, and women are suffering as a result. Unfortunately, the hardships new mothers endure do not end at the hospital. As the country has fled into nationwide panic, shelves are scarce with essential care products for newborns, including diapers and baby wipes. Survival instincts have convinced consumers that hoarding supplies is a method of combating the risk of COVID-19, leaving parents without the supplies needed to take care of their children. The virus has invented new challenges for women to overcome, and with lack of access to abortion and supplies, some very well may be a matter of life or death.
Amid the coronavirus, a gendered lens provides insight into the unfamiliar ways in which women experience numerous threats to their health, safety, equity, and their lives. Women make up a substantial portion of persons on the front lines, working as a powerful force to provide for their families and the families of others. As women face harsher circumstances with inadequate pay, a scarcity of necessary supplies, threats to bodily autonomy, and are put in situations of greater risk for their physical safety, it is vital that advocacy for women’s rights is not lost on the nation. It is imperative we honor the women standing on the frontlines while we work to assure safe and healthy working and living conditions for all women.
Sammi Mathew is a devout human rights advocate from Cincinnati, Ohio. She serves as the Communications Intern at the National Women’s Political Caucus, as well as the Government Affairs Legislative Intern at Hannah News Service. Sammi also works as the Staff Assistant to the District 3 Office of the Louisville Metro Government. She is currently majoring in Political Science and minoring in Communication at the University of Louisville. She operates as the Vice President of United Nations Association Women at the University of Louisville, helping to create the first United Nations Association Women’s Chapter on a college campus in America. Previously, Sammi has interned for the Louisville Metro Government’s Office for Women, been a Deputy Field Organizer of the Kentucky Democratic Party, and Brand Marketing Associate of vegan food company V-Grits. Sammi enjoys keeping up with current events politics as well as gender equality and other human rights concerns on a local and international level.
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