UC Davis students and staff discuss COVID-19’s disproportionate effects on women, especially women of color
The COVID-19 pandemic has had effects that stretch far beyond public health and economic sectors, including its disproportionate effects on women. The adverse effects of COVID-19 on women has been called a “shadow pandemic” by many scholars, which Anna Ward—the grants and program manager at the Feminist Research Institute at UC Davis—described as the sometimes easy-to-miss, overlooked effects associated with the pandemic.
“So there’s a pandemic itself: the virus and the impact on people’s health, and then there’s consequences that flow from the measures that we […] take to combat it,” Ward said. “So [there are] social distancing lockdowns and the economic impact of that, of course. And the question is, who does that impact the most? Not surprisingly, it’s already marginalized populations that tend to be impacted the most, in this case, women and girls.”
The Feminist Research Institute at UC Davis is an organization working on intersectional, inclusive, justice-oriented and transformative feminist research. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they have conducted a lot of research regarding the implications of the pandemic on women.
Student-run clubs on campus, like She’s the First and Girl Up, have also been looking into the topic and discussed it at their recent joint Zoom meeting on Feb. 3. Ward’s research and the women in these organizations’ experiences carried similar themes. One of the topics of the Zoom discussion was the rising rate of domestic violence during the pandemic. According to Girl Up, one in five women worldwide have experienced some form of domestic abuse in the past year.
Catherine Rodriguez, a third-year microbiology major and the vice president of She’s the First, explained why researchers think that these rates are rising as a result of the pandemic.
“When you are around abusive people like that, they’re more likely to monitor what you’re doing, watch what you’re saying, so it becomes really hard,” Rodriguez said. “Even if you’re on Zoom, or maybe you’re in a closed room, and you’re talking to people or messaging them privately, there’s a great risk that you cannot say anything. [This] is leading to a lot more people becoming more severe victims of domestic violence.”
Ward shared a similar sentiment, calling the situation in the U.S. a “worst case scenario” for victims of domestic abuse.
“You have a highly stressful situation, with increased levels of social isolation, limitations on services, transportation,” Ward said. “So you take, for example, a home environment that was already volatile, where violence was already part of the picture, and now you have a circumstance in which people are stuck at home together, perhaps isolated from extended family members and friends.”
Another issue that was brought up in the discussion was the rising number of women and girls leaving the workforce and schools to take on greater roles at home. Twenty million girls worldwide have left school during the past year and are assumed not to return when the COVID-19 pandemic ends, according to She’s the First.
Tanya Sanexa, a third-year biological sciences major, explained why this has profound negative implications moving forward.
“When women get educated, it’s more likely that they are [going] to educate their children, and other women as well, and lift other women up,” Sanexa said. “So women not getting that education or lacking the access or the support they need to do that is actually pretty disheartening because they won’t get to move forward in their lives in that way, especially in […] third-world and developing countries where women’s education is not given much importance anyway. For a girl to lose that opportunity, it kind of limits her chances.”
As for the workforce, CBS This Morning has found that one in four women is considering scaling back or leaving the workforce as a result of the pandemic. According to Ward, this trend has disproportionately impacted women of color in industries that already have lower workforce participation rates of Black and Latina women.
“The implications are particularly disturbing in the U.S. context,” Ward said. “Because if you look at the women who have dropped out of the workforce so far, and who are considering dropping out of the workforce, it’s not just women, it’s almost exclusively Black and [Latina] women. If you look at the rates for white women, not much has changed. So it’s a very racialized issue.”
Many women have left the workforce because of the additional housework that the pandemic has created. Ward explained that among people working from home and essential workers, women are taking on the responsibility of homeschooling and caretaking at much higher rates.
“Every colleague I know, including myself, that has kids is just barely hanging on,” Ward said. “Women just tend to be more of the caregivers and kind of hold that responsibility more, so if you’re trying to work with your kids at home because schools are closed, that’s not fun. But also, when we talk about essential workers, a lot of those workers are women. You’ve got women that are having to continue to go to work without childcare support and having to come up with all sorts of ways around that.”
Sanexa shared that during the discussion on Feb. 3, a lot of attendees noticed this trend of women taking on more responsibilities in their own households.
“When we were talking about if we had seen any pressures being placed on our moms during these quarantine times, a lot of girls resonated with that,” Sanexa said. “I also spoke a little bit about […] how most of the time you look to your mom for taking care of the house, and when you’re living at home during quarantine. Between the girls that was a common narrative.”
Ward hopes that if anything positive is to come from this disparity, it will be an understanding that these caretaking and home responsibilities have fallen on women for generations and are only being exasperated during COVID-19.
“People need to be treated as whole people,” Ward said. “We need to build policy accordingly. There’s a sociologist by the name of Jess Calarco that had a great line about this recently, where she said, ‘Other countries have social safety nets, the U.S. has women.’ My hope is that COVID-19 kind of forces us to get serious about recognizing that and changing that and really taking into account how much we rely on the labor of not just women, but girls as well.”
Written by: Katie DeBenedetti — firstname.lastname@example.org