The Pandemic Reveals: Home, Work, and Health Care Disadvantages for Women of Color

What do we miss when we don’t bring an intersectional lens to analyses of the pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how we, as women of color, occupy crucial spaces and confront oppressive systems in multiple spheres of our lives on a daily basis.  

Gendered and racialized inequities have unfolded in front of ours eyes, bringing to bare the harsh and unjust realities that many women of color experience. These challenges have not changed due to the current pandemic; many of these inequities have simply been amplified.  In our recent article in Gender and Society we suggest that we must look at racism and sexism in tandem to understand the root cause of health problems and inequities facing women of color in the pandemic. We focus on the impacts of COVID-19 on three (3) important settings occupied by women of color: home, health care, and work.  

Women of color as devalued in the home.  

With shelter in place orders starting in March 2020, home was presumed one of the safest places for people to be to avoid contracting the COVID-19 virus. Despite home being a safe place for many, this privilege did not apply to all. Reports of domestic violence increased dramatically, often in the presence of children and other family members. Talha Burki reports that “Some 243 million women are thought to have experienced sexual or physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner at some point over the last 12 months”. These instances will have lasting impacts, introducing a number of public health implications. Even in homes without physical and mental abuse, home may not be a space of refuge. Since the beginning of the pandemic, women, especially women of color have reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression due to an overburden of labor in the home. This labor includes traditional household duties (i.e. cleaning) in addition to homeschooling responsibilities. These added expectations coupled with social isolation and resource insecurity foster an unhealthy living experience. Finally, women of color have also experienced increases in housing insecurity and homelessness due to financial constraints (i.e. loss of income) and abuse.  

Women of color as disposable in work settings.  

It is evident that the pandemic has impacted jobs and employment. For example, we prioritized and encouraged workers in positions deemed essential to work outside of their homes. However, being essential was far less than equitable. For women of color, being essential did not mean increased pay, benefits, and respect; being essential often constituted increased risk of COVID-19 exposure and working under even more stressful conditions. Women of color in health care make up a large percentage of the COVID-19 deaths. For example, nurses of Filipino descent account for a shocking 31.5% of the workforce’s COVID-19 deaths, yet make up only 4% of the workforce. For women of color in non-essential positions, loss of job security, loss of income, and loss of health insurance were prominent concerns that have a direct impact on one’s physical and mental health. 

Women of color as dismissed in health care settings.  

There is a long history of women of color being mistreated, dismissed and ignored in health care settings. This has been no different during the pandemic, as we are presumed incompetent, even if we are in positions of perceived power and privilege. For example, many are again outraged after Dr. Susan Moore, a Black woman, filmed herself in the hospital and reporting on mistreatment and the rush to send her home: “This is how black people get killed when you send them home and they don’t know how to fight for themselves”. Sadly, she died at another hospital after advocates pushed for her transfer—though perhaps “murdered by the system” is a more accurate description. Unfortunately, this example is one of many and we continue to see occurrences of neglect and silencing of Black women in health care settings. Access to quality and equitable health care disparities are visible on a daily basis and have been brought to light during this pandemic with testing, treatment and now vaccines.  

We as a community should continue to advocate for women of color in home, work, and health care environments. We challenge scholars, advocates, journalists, and wider publics worldwide to consider how we have embedded both gender and racial inequities into the very fabric of our society and the perpetually negative implications that has for women of color.  The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed already stark inequality… what’s our next move?  

Dr. Whitney Pirtle (sociology) and Tashelle Wright (public health) are researchers at the University of California, Merced (UCM). Their most recent work takes an intersectional approach to exploring and analyzing preventable health disparities among Black women and women of color. Pirtle and Wright address the implications of racism and sexism on women of color during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Whitney Pirtle was recently recognized as one of the newest John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chairs and Tashelle Wright was recently awarded a UCM Black Research Fellowship.  You can find Dr. Pirtle on Twitter at @thePhDandMe and Tashelle Wright @WrightTashelle.

The Trump Effect on Sexual Health in Africa

By Robert Wyrod

As the Trump presidency enters its third month, we are beginning to see the implications for the U.S. role in promoting global sexual health. Trump’s reinstatement and expansion of the Mexico City Policy, aka the global gag rule, has rightfully received much attention. By prohibiting U.S. foreign aid from funding any organization providing or promoting abortions, it severely limits America’s ability to improve sexual health in the Global South. For the many health clinics across Africa that rely on U.S. funding for reproductive health and family-planning services, this may likely mean dramatically scaling back services or shuttering clinics.

Efforts are underway to challenge the reinstatement, most prominently the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act led by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). But there is another, less-discussed issue that could have an even greater impact on sexual health worldwide, especially in Africa. Will Trump defund the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief? The PEPFAR program, launched in 2004 during the George W. Bush administration, is the largest health initiative in history focused on fighting a single disease. To date, over $70 billion has been spent on PEPFAR programs, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. This makes PEPFAR a tempting target for the current administration, especially given Trump’s deep skepticism of foreign aid. In mid-January, the Trump transition team sent a series of pointed questions to the State Department about U.S. aid to Africa, asking “Is PEPFAR becoming a massive, international entitlement program?” Continue reading “The Trump Effect on Sexual Health in Africa”

Fix your Face!

Featuring: Erynn Masi de Casanova & Kjerstin Gruys

Last fall, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece (here) about beauty, or really, about ugliness.  We asked scholars, Erynn Casanova and Kjerstin Gruys, to write responses to the article and comment on the 2013 book that prompted the NYT commentary.  Both responses are below. We thank them for graciously contributing to this intellectual conversation.   Blurry face_2.25.16


By Erynn Masi de Casanova

Ugly.  Some words sound like what they mean.  We avoid calling people ugly in polite conversation, but are usually bold enough to whisper it behind their backs.  Julia Baird’s recent op-ed in The New York Times raises the question of how children are socialized into beliefs about and reactions to a less-than-lovely appearance.  As a case study, she chooses a children’s book based on the real-life experiences of its author, Robert Hoge, which is a memoir recounting his childhood with a large facial tumor and distorted limbs. His book is simply titled Ugly.  Baird wonders how children come to learn about and take part in a system of “looksism,” and “why we talk about plainness, but not faces that would make a surgeon’s fingers itch.”

Surgery came immediately to my mind on reading Baird’s column.  Elective surgery to alter the human body’s appearance goes by many names.  Plastic surgery emphasizes the malleability of the body and its parts.  Aesthetic surgery makes it sound as if we can turn our bodies into works of art.  Cosmetic surgery conjures makeup rather than sedation and scalpels.  And while Baird acknowledges that surgeons might want to fix faces like Mr. Hoge’s, she doesn’t mention that the possibilities cosmetic surgery opens up also affect social judgements of appearance in everyday life. Continue reading “Fix your Face!”