Commentary: The coronavirus pandemic has hurt everyone. But it hurts women more

Andrea K. McDaniels, The Baltimore Sun
·4 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges for families, turning homes into a chaotic mix of home schooling and teleworking.

But guess who bears the brunt of our new way of life? That’s right: women.

Women are taking on more responsibilities than men, just as they did before COVID-19. We in general were already doing more of the housework and more of the child care duties, but the pandemic has amplified the issue.

Men have stepped up their roles in the family since the 1960s. But even in a time of “Me Too” and women’s liberation, we find ourselves falling into traditional gender roles. The pandemic has heightened the inequalities that still exist between even the most enlightened men and women.

Take a recent study by Boston Consulting Group that found working families have struggled with juggling work and home life as the pandemic has closed schools and limited recreational activities outside the home. Completing work duties with young kids running around has proven challenging, according to the study, which surveyed working parents in the U.S., United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy.

The whole family is suffering, but women even more. On average, women are doing 15 more hours a week of domestic duties, the Boston Consulting Group found. So all the ladies who feel as if the dirty dishes never get clean and the laundry pile never shrinks, you’re not experiencing wild delusions.

It can all be quite annoying and bad for our mental health. Snapping at your spouse a little more these days? Aren’t we all? It can also have serious economic consequences for some women.

The International Monetary Fund is worried that COVID-19 could result in a rollback of economic gains that women have made in recent years. We’re already starting to see some of the consequences.

Because women take on more household responsibility, they may stop working or be slower to return to work after a shutdown than men, suppressing their wages. After all, somebody has to stay home and watch the kids as child care is slowly returning, and make sure they are participating in online learning and not ditching school to play video games. More often than not, it’s Mom or another female caregiver or guardian. Unemployment among women was two percentage points higher than men from April to June, according to IMF.

Women are also more likely to work jobs in retail, tourism and hospitality that put them in the direct line of COVID-19 transmission. They take the risk of going to work and bringing the disease home to their family — or not working and not being able to pay the bills or buy groceries. And that’s if they still even have a job. These are also sectors that have been hit financially hard by the pandemic, resulting in large-scale layoffs, wage cuts and other cost-saving measures.

And guess what? When you don’t have a job and you’re not bringing in enough income to pay your bills, that brings on a whole other host of problems.

That is why women, particularly Black women, are most in danger of facing evictions once moratoriums are lifted. A recent study by the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Washington that looked at more than 9,000 Baltimore eviction court cases from 2018 and 2019 found that those kicked out of their homes were far more likely to be Black women. Blame it on disparities in housing access, income equality and discriminatory housing policies. And that was before the pandemic.

The plight of these women likely hasn’t gotten better — and may have gotten worse. A recent moratorium on evictions issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may mask the problem for a short time, but housing advocates say it won’t go away without rental assistance for these families. Without it, the country will just be grappling with a homeless crisis instead.

We can only hope that the pandemic not only exposes these issues, but also brings about change, such as better pay for women. Some workplaces are already offering more flexibility, something that is easier to execute with women working from home. But we need policy changes that result in a work culture shift that better protects all women.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Andrea K. McDaniels is The Baltimore Sun’s deputy editorial page editor. She can be reached at amcdaniels@baltsun.com.

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