Coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19, is overwhelming hospital systems worldwide, impacting our nation, our state, and, one by one, our communities. It is spreading quickly in Wyoming. Follow Seth Klamann at CST and Amy Surdam in Cheyenne for some perspective on what's happening on the ground, across our state. And now is a great time to get a subscription to your local paper; your local journalists are joining the ranks of healthcare workers and grocery store stockers as everyday heroes in this crisis.
As always, we're interested in knowing whether the virus impacts men and women in the same ways. Jen wrote a column on this concept that ran in yesterday's JHN&G; you can check it out here. We want to expand on it, since information is coming in daily (hourly, really).
Women worldwide, in the US, and in Wyoming are on the front lines of exposure. This asymmetry manifests in myriad ways, all of which amplify the personal, political, and policy decisions we've made as a nation. In her amazing article in The Atlantic, "Coronavirus Is A Disaster for Feminism," Helen Lewis writes, "A pandemic magnifies all existing inequalities."
Let's look at just a few examples of women's increased exposure:
Women are 10 times more likely than men to stay home from work with sick children. The Kaiser Family Foundation explains, “In most households, women are the managers of their families’ health… This gender difference extends to working parents as well. Four in ten working mothers (39%) must take time off and stay home when their children are sick, over ten times the share of men (3%).”
We're seeing that across the state. Reportedly, State Government had a bumpy Monday as Cheyenne schools closed unexpectedly. And we've had plenty of calls with colleagues who are wrangling tiny humans into gloves and boots at the same time as they are launching essential community resources for COVID-19 responses.
Strangely, all the women we've had meetings with seem to think that we need to apologize for said tiny humans in the background. We don't. We understand that life goes on. That tiny humans clamoring for help with shoes are a good thing.
Because, we're not this guy:
(ps--Dude, your children are your responsibility, too.)
But it is a visceral reminder of the lived answer to this question: Who does the unpaid labor in most male-female households, especially those with children?
As if we have to tell you: Women do the vast majority.
Now consider that women also comprise two thirds of all tipped workers and close to 75% of Wyoming’s minimum wage workers. So staying home with sick children--or children whose schools are cancelled for things like, you know, a global pandemic--has particularly steep economic ramifications for women.
Low wage jobs predispose workers to barely eking out a living, offer unreliable hours, few benefits, and poor protections: no paid sick leave, no paid family leave. “There is a large disparity in workplace benefits, with offer rates of paid sick leave and paid vacation significantly lower among mothers who are low-income or part-time employees,” according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In fact, Kaiser pointed out this week that the asymmetry in the pandemic's impact on women highlights the lack of paid leave in this nation. Fortunately, the coronavirus relief package that advanced through Congress pays more attention to paid family leave and paid sick leave. It is not enough, but it is a start.
While we're talking about supports for employees, employers can and should be aware that not all employees have easy or safe work-from-home situations. An essay on Puzzling.org currently making the rounds online offers some good guidelines. Once again, this demonstrates the ways in which the crisis amplifies inequalities: in space, resources, safety, and caregiving.
Women are overrepresented in the caring professions, too, putting us disproportionately on the front lines of exposure to the virus. In Wyoming, approximately 92% of all certified nurses’ assistants (CNAs) are women; nationally, women comprise 92% of all nurses. (Admittedly, the tweet below says 91%, but our sources show 92.)
Here's another impact for that falls heavily on women--one that becomes obvious once you hear it but might not be front-of-mind until then:
Quarantine and work from home protocols increase the incidence of domestic violence. Reports from China’s quarantine demonstrate a threefold increase in gender-based violence. Community resources to combat domestic violence are often stretched thin under the best of circumstances--two shelters in Wyoming already report that they are at capacity before we've entered an official quarantine. Law enforcement needs to be cognizant that domestic violence is known to increase with added stressors—especially economic—and in extended confinement situations. Remember: Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault offers Wyoming-based resources.
So, some things to think about:
Look out for your friends and neighbors. Check in to see what they need. Keep their safety (and your own) in mind.
Take this opportunity to consider the division of unpaid labor in your household. What adjustments can your family make?
Advocate for better policies. If there was ever a time where the shadow side of our collective choices was showing, that time is now. The good news is, we can fix it.
Try to make the next few days, weeks, months better for as many people as possible. It will make it better for you, too.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: Stay the f*ck home. Please.
Want to read more on the subject?
VAWnet has excellent resources on domestic violence in a time of disaster