Jaden Paley, Undergraduate Student & Jasmin Tahmaseb-McConatha, PhD, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Women have been at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19. All too often they have had to make both personal and professional sacrifices. Women have carried an unequal burden as health care workers and family caregivers, a burden that has increased further in the past year. Consequently, the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on the health and well-being of women, particularly women of color (Connor et al., 2020). COVID-19 has increased discriminatory practices resulting in a “Mom Penalty” and “Dad Premium” (2020).
This essay examines the ways the print media has represented the challenges and struggles facing women, particularly women of color, during the pandemic. Print media is one source of public information that creates awareness of the threats to women’s health. A search of print news articles that address women’s well-being indicated that more than one million news articles on this topic. A review of 25 of these news articles, appearing between March 2020 and April 2021, in The New York Times, National Public Radio (print news), and Forbes identified four general intersecting threats to women’s well-being: increased health risks, increased caregiving burdens, economic and professional stress, and increased risk for domestic violence.
Illustrating the health threats facing women in the past year, Black women who live in New York City were found to be 12 times more likely to die during childbirth than women in a non-pandemic year (Hall, 2021). Women of color were also found to disproportionately experience chronic health conditions such as diabetes and asthma (Bleiweis & Ellmann, 2020). Furthermore, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous Communities have also been unduly affected by COVID-19 infections and deaths. The Navajo Nation, for example, having the highest per capita infection rate in the United States (Bleiweis & Ellmann, 2020).
The pandemic has also impacted women’s employment status. The gender wage gap, always a concern affecting overall well-being, resulted in 865,000 women leaving the U.S. workforce (four times that of men) in September of 2020. When family care was needed, generally women were the ones making the professional sacrifice. Within three months in 2020, women lost nearly 11 million jobs (Bleiweis & Ellmann, 2020). Latinx and Black women faced some of the highest rates of unemployment of any minority group (Bleiweis & Ellmann, 2020). The gendered job market loss has been deemed the “Shecession,” a play on the word “recession,” according (Gupta, 2020). At the same time, the “shecession” has resulted in women being home and providing care to children and aging parents placing them at greater risk for stress-related health concerns.
News articles also reported that pandemic stress has increased the incidence of domestic violence. In pre-pandemic times, one in three women were victimized by violence in their lifetime. One year into the pandemic, preliminary analysis indicates that there has been a 25% global increase in gender-based violence (WHO Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women, 2021). Isolation, a reduction of social contact and movement, boredom, joblessness, and fear and anxiety result in an increased risk for intimate partner and family violence (Badri, 2020). Furthermore, the United Nations predicted that because of poverty, there could also be an increase in early marriage placing young and powerless girls in risky situations (Badri, 2020).
What can be done to address these challenges to women’s well-being?
A Forbes article by Holly Corbett (2021) discusses the importance of Childcare Hubs, in which a Massachusetts non-profit, Neighborhood Villages provides support, burden sharing, and community connections for those who are at home. Attenberg (2020) discussing resilience, asks if telling people to be resilient is a “scam” because it places the burden of coping on the individual, taking the responsibility away from the societal structures. Instead, she suggests that we focus on risk factors at a social and cultural level, addressing issues of poverty, systemic racism, inadequate education, and lack of social support. Attenberg’s (2020) views are consistent with those of Corbett’s (2020) who suggests that community programs and support services should be developed to provide support and help women remain in the workforce.
Comparing social and cultural changes that resulted from past pandemics, North (2021) focuses on the possibility of community building, hope, and optimism as potential outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic. As an example, North (2021) discusses changes that emerged from the devastating Black Plague in mid-14th century England. The plague led to an increase in positive community-oriented programs and spaces such as the now traditional English Pub which has served as a community meeting and support space for hundreds of years. These examples illustrate that media coverage of the pandemic reflects the challenges women are facing during this difficult period and some also provide possible workable solutions to women’s issues during the pandemic. The added toll that pandemic stress has taken on women’s overall well-being serves to reinforce gender inequities and ultimately leads to long-term negative economic and health outcomes for families and societies as a whole.
Attenberg, J. (2020, August 19). Is Resilience Overrated? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/19/health/resilience-overrated.html?auth=login-google&referringSource=articleShare.
Badri, B. (2020, December 09). The impact of covid-19 on women. Retrieved March 10, 2021, from https://www.un.org/en/un-chronicle/impact-covid-19-women
Bleiweis, R., & Ellmann, N. (2020, June 08). What women need in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved March 10, 2021, from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/news/2020/06/08/485589/women-need-response-coronavirus-pandemic/
Connor, J., Madhavan, S., Mokashi, M., Amanuel, H., Johnson, N., Pace, L., & Bartz, D. (2020, September 13). Health risks and outcomes that disproportionately affect women during the Covid-19 pandemic: A review. Retrieved March 10, 2021, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953620305839
Corbett, H. (2020, September 30). How to keep women in the workforce during the pandemic. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/hollycorbett/2020/09/28/how-to-keep-women-in-the-workforce-during-the-pandemic/?sh=2b36be65e732
Gogoi, P. (2020, October 28). Stuck-at-home moms: The pandemic’s devastating toll on women. Retrieved March 10, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/2020/10/28/928253674/stuck-at-home-moms-the-pandemics-devastating-toll-on-women
Gupta, A. H. (2020, May 09). Why some women call this recession a ‘shecession’. Retrieved March 10, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/09/us/unemployment-coronavirus-women.html
Hall, L. (2021, January 10). Unnecessary risk: Women need safer options than giving birth in hospitals during pandemic. Retrieved March 10, 2021, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2021/01/10/why-giving-birth-pandemic-riskier-than-should-column/6561318002/
North, A. (2021, April 1). What the history of PANDEMICS can teach us about resilience. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/01/health/pandemics-plague-history-resilience.html?referringSource=articleShare.
WHO. (2020, April 09). Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women. Retrieved March 09, 2021, from https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/policy_brief_on_covid_impact_on_women_9_april_2020.pdf
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