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EDITORIAL: Domestic, caregiver response unfairly falls on women during coronavirus pandemic

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As we discussed in our previous editorial, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is impacting different members of society in different ways. Last time, we looked at how both the pandemic and our attempts to fight it disproportionately impact people of color.

But the virus’ disparities do not cease at racial lines. Women have also been victimized in a unique way by the virus, mainly due to sexist institutions that have been in place for generations.

The nursing profession — critical in times of pandemic — is predominantly female. Nurses are on the front lines in times like these, tending to patients and potentially exposing themselves to the virus in their efforts to do their jobs.

But that is only the start of the disparity. Women are often the caretakers of a household, an archaic byproduct of our sexist society. Children from preschool to college are now home from school, increasing the burden on the household’s caretaker, who are usually women.

“At an individual level, the choices of many couples over the next few months will make perfect economic sense. What do pandemic patients need? Looking after. What do self-isolating older people need? Looking after. What do children kept home from school need? Looking after. All this looking after — this unpaid caring labor — will fall more heavily on women, (due to) the existing structure of the workforce,” said Helen Lewis, a writer in The Atlantic.

How are working women, who are the predominant caretaker in their homes, supposed to juggle it all? They have to either focus their energy on work or their caretaker responsibilities, and neglecting either of those could cause drastic issues.

For instance, if a working mother has to care for her family (and perhaps older relatives as well) and work remotely, in all likelihood one of those responsibilities will be somewhat sacrificed in lieu of the other. These women are being forced to choose between potential job loss or domestic chaos.

Of course, working men with caretaker responsibilities face the same predicament, but the fact of the matter is that men are not enlisted for those responsibilities as often. 

“All over the world women are the predominant providers of informal care for family members with chronic medical conditions or disabilities, including the elderly and adults with mental illnesses. It has been suggested that there are several societal and cultural demands on women to adopt the role of a family-caregiver,” said Stanford University Researcher Nidhi Sharma.

But the most horrid result of this pandemic, when it comes to its gendered aspect, is the increase in domestic violence that has corresponded with it.

“For people who are experiencing domestic violence, mandatory lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the new coronavirus) have trapped them in their homes with their abusers, isolated from the people and the resources that could help them,” according to Time Magazine.

These isolation measures are clearly nightmarish for anyone living with a domestic abuser. Times of crisis also see an increase in violence, especially that of the gender-based type.

“While men experience domestic violence, women make up the majority of victims, with LGBTQ individuals also facing elevated rates of domestic violence. But during times of crisis — such as natural disasters, wars and epidemics — the risk of gender-based-violence escalates,” according to the article.

Much like people of color are impacted disproportionately by this pandemic and the measures taken to stop it, women are as well. Through their work as nurses and other frontline occupations, the expectation of them to promote domestic upkeep and their increased risk of facing domestic violence, women clearly face a unique set of issues due to the coronavirus and the resultant lockdown.

Unfortunately as the sexist institutions that are causing these disparities were in place prior to the lockdown, these structural problems will require long term structural change.

Luckily, Rutgers is continuing to provide resources for domestic abuse victims. Rutgers  Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance has several resources for aiding victims. 

"In a call, the staff and volunteers will ask about an individual’s immediate risks and safety needs and help identify safety options, resources and strategies while helping address concerns ... They also help individuals walk through legal resources or identify and transition into a confidential domestic violence shelter if they need safe housing," according to The Daily Targum.

Rutgers also provides general mental health support programs for those in need (and they need help, to those of you able and willing to volunteer).

We can all stay inside. We can all socially distance so that this crisis ends quickly, and the women feeling its disparate impacts escape their situations more quickly. 

Additionally, women’s shelters all around New Jersey protect those who are feeling the brunt of this, and they can always use donations or volunteers to help out. Women Aware is a great example of a non-profit women's shelter in New Brunswick, and helping or using that resource if necessary is a great way to mitigate the damaging impacts of domestic violence and abuse.

There are more minute ways to help as well. If you are at home, make sure that the burden of care is not falling on one person and do what you can to pitch in. We all have to deal with this crisis, and all of us can play a part in making sure that nobody is overburdened.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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