Women facing historical challenges this Women’s History Month
March is National Woman’s History Month in the United States. Congress designated March to be a month where we focused on the contributions of women to our country in 1987—and in the era of coronavirus, it takes on special significance.
Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, especially women of color, who have struggled with more job loss, financial insecurity, and childcare issues than the rest of the population. Consider:
- Women have lost 5.4 million jobs over the pandemic, compared to 4.4 million for men. For BIPOC women, the toll is even higher—they’ve lost employment and access to healthcare at greater rates than white women.
- Women have delayed health screenings and routine medical care, both from safety concerns and from the loss of health insurance thanks to losing employment. In one California system, screenings for cervical cancer dropped 80 percent.
- Women are drinking more alcohol. Heavy drinking, which is defined as four or more drinks in a two-hour period, has increased an astonishing 41 percent among American women. The rise in heavy drinking is linked to increased social isolation, stress, and neglected mental health needs.
- Along with drinking, substance use has risen in women. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reported the highest number of opioid overdoses results in death, with a surge from March to May of 2020, right when the pandemic began.
- Women are reporting high levels of anxiety and depression, with 44 percent of women reporting symptoms in one recent study. Once again, the culprit is the stress, isolation, grief, and fear caused by the pandemic.
While many of these issues are affecting men as well, the fact that so many more women are suffering shows that the burden of the pandemic is falling more heavily on women—and there are still many questions about what comes next. As vaccines roll out across the country, many pregnant women are wondering if it’s safe to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Currently, health authorities are recommending vaccination for pregnant women, but advising that women talk to their healthcare providers about their unique situation.
Overall, this has been a hard year for American women. The pandemic has highlighted critical problems that affect women and their families, ranging from a lack of affordable childcare and healthcare to job insecurity and financial disparities between men and women, and white and BIPOC women. As the end of the pandemic hopefully comes into sight, we can’t forget the lessons we’ve learned over the past year and work together to improve access to childcare, equitable employment, healthcare, and mental health screenings for the half of our population that has suffered the worst.