Let’s face it, women are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in every aspect of their lives; from access to education and health care, to economic security and personal safety.
Research released in 2019 on the Women and Girls Data Platform shows that women of color across our state have inadequate access to health insurance. This is exacerbated as the unemployment numbers continue to soar and more women lose access to health benefits.
While women have borne the brunt of inequality for far too long, the disparities are even greater for black, brown, Native American and other minority women. For instance, minority populations are at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19, as many already struggle with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
The economic threats are equally alarming. Women carry most of the student debt and women of color face the largest wage gaps in our state. In Connecticut, women typically earn $0.84 for every dollar paid to white men; black women earn even less, typically $0.57 cents for every dollar; while Latinas earn $0.48 cents, Asians earn $0.83 and Native women earn just $0.55.
Women and women of color make up 67% of the low wage workforce in Connecticut. This makes them even more vulnerable to job loss and less likely to have access to paid sick days and paid family leave to care for themselves or family members.
Women also make up the majority of workers on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19. Nationally, women make up 80% of healthcare workers, 66% of grocery store workers and 93% of childcare workers.
The socio-economic impact on women of color is staggering. Add to the mix the increased threats to women’s safety. With most states implementing a “stay home, stay safe” policy, women are more at risk for increased violence and must be protected. Most victims of abuse, domestic violence, and human trafficking have little to no options but to shelter in place with their abusers.
Collectively, we represent organizations that stand ready to respond to the growing needs of women, girls and families in our community. Yes, it is important to flatten the number of people impacted by COVID-19, but it is critical to simultaneously flatten the health and economic disparities of women in our community, especially women of color.
We implore our state leaders to keep women at the forefront of the health and economic response, but must especially address the inequities faced by women and girls of color. It is imperative we do the following:
- Ensure the state’s COVID-19 task force and leadership teams have strong representation of women of color.
- Conduct social science research and collect data specifically focused on the trauma caused by the coronavirus, and how the virus is disproportionately impacting women and people of color, physically, mentally and emotionally.
- Continue to source and provide proper PPE to all front line workers, including healthcare, child-care and service industry workers so they can protect themselves, their families and the community at large.
- Make sure women and minority-owned businesses are receiving timely information, support and access to small business loans, lines of credit and other financial support to maintain and/or resurrect their businesses.
- While there is an increased need for essential workers at grocery stores, manufacturing hubs, and places like Amazon, we must make sure there is continued opportunities for women to earn self-sustaining wages with health benefits.
- Continue to review, analyze and provide support services for women to ensure they have access to affordable housing, food, and, increasingly important given school closings, technology to support distance learning for themselves and their families.
Working women and their families already struggle to stay healthy and pay bills while taking care of children, elderly parents and other family members vulnerable to COVID-19. Nonprofits throughout our community are rising to the challenge to serve underserved and marginalized women and their families.
Our leaders in the government, nonprofit, corporate and philanthropic sectors have two choices: keep doing the same things and expect different outcomes, or take this opportunity to reset who we value and address these inequities.
As women leaders, we speak in one voice and are committed to ensuring women of color are heard and represented. We will continue to do our part. State and local officials must do the same.
Adrienne W. Cochrane is the Chief Executive Officer of the YWCA Hartford Region in Hartford. Kate C. Farrar is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), Hartford. Jenny Steadman is the Executive Director of the Aurora Women and Girls Foundation, West Hartford.