Apr. 30, 2020 12:21 pm

Centering women of color is key to COVID-19 response

The Women's Funding Collaborative offers six suggestions for philanthropic entities and policymakers.

#6: "Prioritize community-based organizations run by women, and more importantly women of color serving the communities they live in."

(Photo by Retha Ferguson from Pexels)

This is a guest post by the Women’s Funding Collaborative, a group of grantmaking organizations in Southeastern PA working together to promote the integration of a gender lens into the philanthropic sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis have starkly exposed the racial and socioeconomic inequities that have long plagued the United States.

Work-from-home opportunities, secure housing, food access, and savings are unequally distributed across race and class. The result is low-wage people of color are disproportionately represented among those who cannot socially distance — because of their reliance on wages from the service economy, dependence on public transit, and other factors.

Recently available data has borne out the logical result of these circumstances: African Americans are overrepresented among those who contract and die from COVID-19. They are less likely to get tested and, due to implicit (or explicit) bias, less likely to get quality care. According to Kaiser Health News, physicians in public health and on the front lines report that they can already see a repetition of familiar patterns of racial and economic bias in the pandemic response.

For those of us concerned with gender equity, the current situation also magnifies the inequities faced by women, particularly women of color. Women are more likely to hold jobs in the industries hardest hit by the pandemic — such as travel, retail, domestic work, child care, and personal services — and in those deemed essential, such as food service and health care.

Consequently, women are more likely to have lost work as a result of the pandemic, or to be forced to continue to commute to work during the pandemic, putting either their finances or health at risk. Simultaneously, the closure of schools, childcare facilities, and senior centers means women — who still bear the brunt of the caregiving burden — face increased demands while at home. To make matters worse, for too many women, “home” is not a safe place. Stay-at-home orders, under stressful conditions, increases the risk of intimate-partner violence, which also disproportionately affects women.

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As we all do our part during this crisis, we need to bear in mind the unequal impact of this pandemic across race, class, and gender, and ensure that the solutions being proposed and implemented center those most affected.

To our fellow philanthropic entities and to policymakers, we offer the following suggestions for both the present and the future:

  1. Support not only organizations that are offering direct services, but also those that are advocating for systems-level changes. We need paid sick leave, pay equity, a higher minimum wage and safe working conditions for everyone in our economy to thrive. A sturdier safety net will ensure that many more families will be able to weather the next pandemic.
  2. Prioritize the needs of women least likely to be met by programs such as unemployment compensation and the federal stimulus bill — including undocumented and cash workers, domestic workers, and those engaged in informal sex work.
  3. Disaggregate data by gender, race, and geography to continue to deepen your understanding of the pandemic’s impact on different communities.
  4. Ensure that the decision makers in your grantmaking processes represent diverse racial, economic, and gender backgrounds and experiences.
  5. Invest in gender-transformative grantmaking to build the capacity of organizations to challenge and dismantle rigid social gender norms.
  6. Prioritize community-based organizations run by women, and more importantly women of color serving the communities they live in.

To quote Sheryl Sandberg and David Miliband “…everyone — governments, businesses, philanthropies and international agencies — must focus specifically on protecting women against the health, economic and social consequences of COVID-19. This can’t be an afterthought. It must be front and center. Otherwise, women and girls will be dealing with the fallout of the pandemic for years — even decades — to come.”


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