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Women and the hidden burden of the coronavirus How women shoulder the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. By Madeleine Simon Stephanie Morgan can’t remember exactly when she knew something was wrong. But for the mother living in the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, the shift from working parent coordinating summer camps and enforcing screen time to staring at the next six weeks as a homeschool teacher for her three kids came suddenly. “I am used to having five or six hours a day to work and get stuff organized in our house and be ready to take back on that mom role after school’s over,” Morgan says. “And now it’s like having really young children again. They’re there all the time and it’s hard to meet everyone’s needs and feel very productive during your day.” Morgan and her family live just less than 4 miles from the Washington state hospital with the most coronavirus deaths in the country, and about 6 miles from the eldercare center in Kirkland facing the brunt of the outbreak. At first, schools in her area closed for a day or two to prepare for online learning. Now, students won’t be able to return until late April, and many schools have canceled their online classes, leaving parents — especially mothers — to take on their children’s education and care. “There are a lot of women I know who kind of act as the point parent. So when something like this happens and kids are out of school, the extra work falls on their shoulders,” Morgan says. “I think those of us who are working from home are especially struggling with that duality because it’s really not possible. I’m trying to run homeschool lessons at the same time as working.” Morgan is not alone — not even in the U.S. Right now, nearly 850 million children around the world are home from school as more than 100 countries are closing education institutions in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Whether in Italy or South Korea, women who provide the most care within their families may be feeling the brunt of this pandemic. Evidence suggests more men than women are dying of the coronavirus, but COVID-19 is also having specific ramifications on women. Like in many global crises, women face a particularly distinct fallout from this outbreak, one that can range from burdensome at best to detrimental at worst. And while women provide the most health care around the world — whether it’s formally or informally — and are acutely affected by the pandemic, they are also largely left out of global health conversations. Lack of representation “Global health has a huge imbalance,” says Sophie Harman, a professor of international politics with a specialization in global health politics at Queen Mary University of London. “Within institutions, women are invisible. But they are everywhere when it comes to delivering care.” Around the world, women make up 70 percent of health care workers. In Shanghai, more than 90 percent of nurses and 50 percent of doctors who are combating the epidemic are women, according to a report highlighted by China Labour Bulletin, an NGO based in Hong Kong. In Hubei Province, ground zero of the outbreak, there are 100,000 women working as frontline medical staff. In the U.S., women hold 76 percent of all health care jobs. Women also take on the majority of child care, eldercare and domestic responsibilities that put them further in front of outbreaks such as these. In the U.S., for example, more than 25 million women — almost 1 in 7 — provide care to family members or friends, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. “Despite all the cultural differences and different rates of infection and maybe different patterns of infection, one thing that’s common around the world is that women are providing the majority of the care work either formally or informally,” says Julia Smith, a research associate at Simon Fraser University. Yet, women are underrepresented in decision-making spheres, and the world’s coronavirus response agencies are no exception. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Emergency Committee on COVID-19 is only 20 percent women. Likewise, the WHO-China joint mission on COVID-19 is only 16 percent women. Seema Verma and Deborah Brix have prominent roles in the U.S. Coronavirus Task Force, but only 10 percent of the representatives in the group are women. “Everyone in a collective way is feeling or will feel the impact of this pandemic,” says Erin Loos Cutraro, founder and CEO of She Should Run, a nonpartisan organization supporting women running for office. “It is at this very moment that we have to shine a light on what it means that women are not going to be in these rooms. You look at homecare workers, mostly women of color, mostly immigrants who are looking after our parents, who are looking after our children. Who’s going to be looking out for these women?” Economic impacts Beyond the care economy, women also disproportionately hold jobs without protections like paid leave and in fields jeopardized by social-distancing and widespread shutdowns. Two-thirds of tipped restaurant workers in the U.S. are women, according to analysis by TIME Magazine. Sixty-five percent of workers in the restaurant industry do not have paid sick leave. and 77 percent have unpaid leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Senate passed a coronavirus aid package Wednesday that would give up to 10 days of paid sick leave, but caps that measure off for companies with 500 employees. The parent company of Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, for example, is only offering its employees 40 hours of paid sick leave, according to The Washington Post. The hotel industry, where women make up more than half the workforce, has been hit harder by the coronavirus outbreak than the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Great Recession combined, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association. A dramatic drop in people staying at hotels recently could result in the loss of nearly 4 million jobs, from general managers to housekeepers, Axios reports. And even in the best of times, women are more likely to stay home and juggle work with home care. Four in 10 working mothers take time off and stay home when their children are sick, which is 10 times more than the share of men, according to a study published in 2014. Of these women, 60 percent are not paid for that time off. There are also five times as many single mothers as fathers in the U.S. “When it comes to crises like a pandemic, we feel that we have to respond to technical measures and somehow these are the most important,” Smith says. “And of course getting things like health care supplies and developing vaccines and getting public health information out, all of that is really important. But in order for that to be effective, we also need to consider the social dimensions of an outbreak and response and the secondary impact on people.” Increasing domestic violence Domestic violence also tends to increase during national or global crises. In terms of the coronavirus outbreak, self-isolating and quarantining in an unsafe home can compound the issue. The number of domestic violence cases reported to police in Hubei Province, for instance, tripled in February compared to the same time last year, according to Axios. “If you have gender experts at the table when we’re talking about implementing quarantine measures, they would’ve flagged the issue of violence when you quarantine people in the home,” Harman says. “They would’ve just seen it as an issue. They would’ve said ‘okay where does most violence against women happen? It happens in the home. So if you keep people in the home, this is something that’s going to happen.’ And so it’s having them as part of that conversation.” Harman emphasizes that it’s not just about having women at the table, it’s also important to include experts on gender issues specifically. “What it falls down to, I think, is that because you don’t have any gender experts in the planning or preparedness when you’re in the midst of an outbreak, the big response is this is a secondary issue,” Harman says. “So what we hear a lot with coronavirus: ‘What’s this got to do with anything? It affects everyone equally.’ This becomes secondary. So it’s about making gender right at the heart of it.” ‘Uncharted territory’ For Morgan, who oversees an online parenting community and blog, one of her main concerns right now is how to navigate this outbreak as both a teacher and a parent. She’s hearing similar worries from other families. “They’re adjusting to this new way of life and they’re not quite sure what they’re going to do yet or how they’re going to handle it,” Morgan says. “A lot of people are worried about their kids being more worried than they’re showing. I think a lot of parents are concerned the kids are internalizing this.” The unprecedented nature of the coronavirus outbreak — everything from its global spread to the worldwide response and who’s most vulnerable — is leaving many to feel, as Cutraro puts it, as if this is “uncharted territory.” But, Cutraro says considering how men and women live in pandemics differently can change the world’s response to crises like this. “It looks like a world where you have a much greater sense of trust and faith that the decisions being made are going to represent your interests,” Cutraro says. “As these decisions are made, we wouldn’t live in fear that our experiences as women are even being thought of.” L7 Race, Class, power create and, in turn, are created by, gendef,, race-ethnicity, and class; we cannot do justice to the complexity of these issues here (Omi and Winant t986; San Juan 1989; Gender, and Wbmen’s Wbrks conceptual framework for thinking about the racial-ethnic histories of women’s work. . . . A Conceptual Framework Teresa L. Amott Julie A. Matthaei \Vnu, social and economic factors determine and differentiate women’s work lives? Why is it, for instance, that the work experiences of African American women are so different from those of European American women? Why have some women worked outside the home for pay, while others have provided for their families through unpaid work in the home? Why are most of the wealthy women in the United States of European descent and why are so many women of color poor? In this chapte4 we lay out a basic conceptual framework for understanding differences in women’s works and economic positions. Throughout U.S. history economic differences among women (and men) have been constructed and organized along a number of social categories. In our analysis, we focus on the three categories which we see as most central-gender, race-ethnicity, and class-with less discussion of others, such as age, sexual preference, and religion. We see these three social categories as interconnected, historical processes of domination and subordination. Thinking about gende4 race-ethnicity, and class, then, necessitates thinking historically about power and economic exploitation. There is a rich and controversial body of literature which examines the ways in which economic exploitation, ideology, and political r84 Spelman 1988; Matthaei, forthcoming). Rather, in this chapte4 we develop a basic Gender, Race-Ethnicity, and Class Interconnected The concepts of gendeq race-ethinicity, and class are neither transhistorical nor independent. Hence, it is artificial to discuss them outside of historical time and place, and separately from one another. At the same time, without such a set of concepts, it is impossible to make sense of women’s disparate eco- nomic experiences. Gendel race-ethnicity, and class are not natural or biological categories which are unchanging over time and across cultures. Rather, these categories are socially constructed: they arise and are transformed in history and themselves transform history. Although societies rationalize them as natural or god-given, ideas of appropriate feminine and masculine behavior vary widely across history and culture. Concepts and practices of race-ethnicity, usually justified by religion or biology, also vary over time, reflecting the politics, economics, and ideology of a particular time and in turn, reinforcing or transforming politics, economics, and ideology. For example, nineteenth-century European biologists Louis Agassiz and Count Arthur de Gobineau developed a taxonomy of race which divided humanity into separate and unequal racial species; this taxonomy was used to rationalizeEuropean colonization of Africa and Asia, and slavery in the United States (Gould 1981; Omi and Winant 1986). Class is perhaps the most historically specific category of all, clearly dependent upon the particular economic and social constellation of a society ata point in time. Still, notions of class as inherited or genetic continue to haunt us, harkening back to earlier eras in which lowly birth was thought to cause low intelligence and a predisposition to criminal activity. Central to gende4, race< been the stnr redefine or throughout I workers’ cor workers and pression har’, relationships powers. In tl white wome: domesticvier homemakinp homemaking ing. In the I cial-ethnic id and pride was of colol suc] can Indian n Race-ethn connected, ir cesses, rathet 1981). This i will explore i often difficui nomic practi der oppressi U.S. South u class oppress racial-ethnic ropeans). Se ence these di and subordir other; in ph metaphoq, g are not separ identity. Hen, pression whi regardless of Spelman put …inther we may t woman’s i parts neat parts defin class, and sonal ident pop-bead woman m white orbl maican, J 1988, p. 13 Chapter 17 ated by, ge* e cannot do e issues here Juan I 989; thcoming)elop a basic mg about the r’swork… – und Class :e-ethinicin” ical nor indediscuss them ce, and sepa- Central to the historical transformation of gendea race-ethnicity, and class processes have been the struggles of subordinated groupsto redefine ot ttantcend them. For example, throughout the development of capitalism, rorkers’ consciousness of themselves as rorkers and their struggles against class op- The problems of “pop-bead metaphysics-” also apply to historical analysis. In our read- ing of history there is no common experiof gender across race-ethnicity and “.ri” class, of iace-ethnicity across class and gen- der lines, or of class across race-ethnicity and gender. gender is invaluable, the gender process caniot be understood independently of class connected, interdetermining historical processes, rather than separate systems (Sargent 1981). This is true in two senses, which we uill explore in more detail below. First, it is often difficult to determine whether an economic practice constitutes class, race, or ge-nder oppression: for example, slavery in the U.S. South was at the same time a system of class oppression (of slaves by owners) and of racial-eihnic oppression (of Africans by Europeans). Second, a person does not experi- rredisposition lVorks L85 can Indian movements. Race-ethnicity, gende4 and class are inter- :lass are not :s which are oss cultures. ;ocially conrnsformed in m history. Al:m as natural iate feminine videly across rnd practices :d by religion reflecting the w of a partic:ing or transrnd ideologl: mr European separate and \ With these caveats in mind, let us examine the processes of gende6, class,, and race-ethnicity, their importance in th-e histories of women’s works, and some of the waYs in which these processes have been intertwined. and pride was essential to movements of people of color; such as the Black Power and Ameri- xonomy was rlonization of n the United Vinant 1986). torically sperendent upon ocial constelime. Still, nogenetic conack to earlier s thought to Race, Class, Gender, lression have transformed capitalist-worker ielationships, expanding workers’ rights and lrcwers. In the nineteenth century educated o-hite women escaped from the prevailing, domestic view of womanhood by arguing that homemakittg included volunteer work, social homemaking careers, and political otganizing. In the i96Os, the transformation of racial-ethnic identity into a source of solidarity : same time. it is impossiisparate ece lount Arthur nomy of race + enie these different processes of domination and subordination independently of one another; in philosopher Elizabeth Spelman’s metapho4- gender, race-ethnicity, and class are not separate “pop-beads” on a necklace of identity. Hettce, there is no generic ge-nderoppression which is experienced by all women iegardless of their race-ethnicity or class. As Spelman puts it: . . . in the case of much feminist thought we may get the imPression that a *o.ttutt’t i-dentity consists of a sum of parts neatly divisible from one anothe4 parts defined in terms of her ra.ce, gender, Llutt, and so on. . . . On this view of p,errottui identity (which might also be called pop-bead metaphysics), Tny,being a woman means the same whether I am white or black, rich or poor, French or Jamaican, Jewish or Muslim. (SPelman 1988, p. 136) Gender Over the past 20 years, feminist theorists have developed the concept ofgender ascen- tral to undeistanding women’s lives and oppression. As we will iee, while the concept of and race-ethnicity. Furthel there is no com- mon experience of gender oppression among women. Geider differences in the social lives of men and women are based on, but are not the same thing as, biological differences between the sexes. Gender is rooted in societies’ beliefs that the sexes are naturally distinct and opposed social beings. These beliefs are turned into self-fulfilling prophecies through sex-role socialization: the bioIogical s”^Es are assigned distinct and often uriequal work and political positions, and turned into socially distinct genders. Economists view the sexual division of labor as central to the gender differentiation of the sexes. By assigning the sexes to differ- ent and complementary tasks, the sexual division of labor turns them into different and complementary genders. The-work of males is af least partitlly, if not wholly, different from that bf females, making “men” and “women” different economic and social beings. Sexual divisions of labor; not sexual dif- feience alone, create difference and complementarity between “opposite” sexes. These differenc-es, in turn, have been the basis for marriage in most societies. Anthropologists have found that most societies, acroJs historical periods, have tended to assign females to infant care and to the duties associated with raising children 186 Unit Four * Women’Workers Across tlte Spectrum because of their biological ability to bear children. In contrast men usually concentrate on interfamilial activities, and gain political dominance; hence gender complementarity has usually led to political and economic dominance by men (Levi-Strauss l97l; Rosaldo 1974). The concept of gender certainly helps us understand women’s economic histories. Each racial-ethnic group has had a sexual division of labor which has barred individuals from the activities of the opposite sex. Gender processes do differentiate women’s lives in many ways from those of the men in their own racial-ethnic and class group. Further, gender relations in all groups tend to assign women to the intra-familial work of childrearing, as well as to place women in a subordinate position to the men of their class and racial-ethnic group. But as soon as we have written these generalizations, exceptions pop into mind. Gender roles do not always correspond to sex. Some American Indian tribes allowed individuals to choose among gender roles: a female, for example, could choose a man’s role, do men’s work, and marry another female who lived out a woman’s role …
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