Because women do the bulk of unpaid domestic and care work, they are also particularly hard hit by public health crises and pandemics. And this one is no different.
By Soraya Chemaly
Despite moves toward more equitable domestic partnerships, taking care of people’s bodies is still overwhelmingly understood to be “women’s work.” This is true both in terms of unpaid and paid labor. Women make up more than half of low-wage workers in every state, leaving them in particularly vulnerable positions as the economy sheds jobs at an unprecedented rate. Almost 90 percent of nurses are women, as are the majority of child care workers, housekeepers, cleaners, maids, nursing assistants and home health aids in elder care and rehabilitation facilities.
Additionally, food preparation and service jobs are held mainly by women. This means many of the job sectors dominated by women, particularly low-wage women of color, are being hit hard by layoffs. To date, women make up more than 60 percent of workers who have lost jobs because of the coronavirus, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Many if not most of these women, working for pay or not, have families to take care of. In both the short and long term, these gendered expectations increase women’s exposure to harm across the board. Studies of long-term effects on women and their equality, drawn from earlier epidemics and disasters, don’t bode well.