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COVID-19 is a Women’s Issue

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COVID-19 is a women's issue
Graphic: Oxfam

Women—particularly women of color—have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of the COVID-19. It is up to every single one of us to fight for a fairer and more equitable system that enables women to thrive here in the US and around the world.

The Impact on Women

The past year has highlighted the flaws in our systems and deepened the already stark inequalities in our society. Women, in particular, have endured the brunt of COVID-19's impacts—they’ve lost the most jobs, faced the most poverty, experienced the most violence, and taken on the most care responsibilities at home. Yet in spite of this, they’ve also kept their families, business, and communities from falling apart.

It has a become abundantly clear—COVID-19 is a women’s issue.

The Struggle of Child Care

No industry better represents the impact the pandemic has had on women than child care. According to the National Women’s Law Center, a staggering 95% of child care workers are women, and these workers are nearly three times more likely than the overall workforce to be either Black or Latina. When COVID-19 hit, the already underfunded child care industry was pushed to the brink. The sector lost one in six jobs and thousands of providers remain on the verge of closing.

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Rochelle Wilcox, founder of Wilcox Academy of Early Learning. Rhino

Rochelle Wilcox knows this better than most. She is the founder and director of Wilcox Academy of Early Learning in New Orleans, Louisiana. The goal of her early childhood learning centers has always been to provide high quality care for marginalized communities who couldn’t normally afford it, and this remained her goal even when COVID-19 changed everything. Their centers closed along with rest of the world in March 2020, and when they were able to reopen again there were more challenges than ever.

“We went from full 100% capacity to 20% capacity.” Rochelle says. “I was able to bring some of my teachers back, but I couldn’t bring all of them back. So now I have to juggle supporting my other staff, staff looking for other jobs—they have families to feed. There was very little support and it wasn’t always what we needed.”

Child care center costs have soared during the pandemic—41% higher than before, with Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana seeing the largest increase in costs. This has led to many centers closing their doors permanently.

Rochelle saw this happen in her own community. “In my network, of the 30 [child care] directors, only 10 opened their centers again.”

This hit to the child care industry is devastating to the families—and mothers—that rely on these care centers. Even prior to the pandemic, 51% of families in the US lived in a child care desert. Within the first two months of the pandemic, two-thirds of parents had difficulty finding child care.

When the child care industry struggles, families struggle, and as we’ve seen time and again during this pandemic, women bear the brunt. Women have absorbed the majority of domestic and care work at home. In the US, women accounted for 84% of all workers who missed work in the average month last year due to child care issues—a five-year high. Globally, women are spending over 30 hours per week solely on child care during COVID-19. This has resulted in nearly a million American mothers leaving the work force during the pandemic—and many of whom might not return.

Supporting the child care industry IS supporting women—not only the thousands of women who work at these care centers, but also the mothers and families who rely on them.

Investing in Recovery for Women

Though there have been significant losses, a year into this pandemic, there is hope. Congress and President Biden worked quickly within the first few months of 2021 to pass a stimulus bill—the American Rescue Plan—that will work to address many of the issues facing women. The child care industry will receive $39 billion to help with stabilization and to support struggling families. This kind of investment is crucial to rehabilitating the economy, getting women back into the workforce, and providing job security for child care workers. These funds are an important step in ensuring that families have more of the support they need to be able to go back to work so we can get our economy back on track. It’s a big step in the right direction and will make a difference for millions of women.

“The fact is, we are so grateful that we are included in COVID relief, but that's just the first step,” Rochelle points out. “This is not a short-term problem; this is an everyday thing that we need to get ahead of. We need our elected officials and decision makers to take us off the backburner so that we can begin to thrive.”

It’s more important than ever to make sure our systems support the needs of women—especially women of color. That’s why Oxfam continues to advocate for policies that address the root causes of poverty and inequality, as well as calling for a People’s Vaccine, which is a crucial step in bringing relief and hope to women around the world.

In the face of incredible hardship, women have continued to show up for their communities. Now is the time to show up for them.

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