In 2009 American Journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn penned a bestseller called “Half The Sky” about the plight of women worldwide with a focus on solutions to the grave issues of sex trafficking and forced prostetution, gender-based violence and maternal mortality. While the oppression of women worldwide is well documented and progress has been made (regardless of the fact that just last week I read a headline that a high judge in India issued a ruling that a rapist must marry his victim as punishment for his crime) we have a long way to go.
We, as women, hold up half the sky and it’s falling.
In the United States women may fair better than their sisters in many parts of the world and yet our country ranks dead last among 40 other developed countries in terms of paid leave available to mothers and fathers. The U.S. is also the only Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development country that offered a whopping zero federally-mandated weeks of maternity leave.
This month in our “Love in Action” session we focused on women, unemployment and the economy and I was shocked to learn how much we devalue care in our country and what an incredible conundrum millions of women and families are facing when it comes to choosing between work and safety and work and care for our children.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have experienced a devastating decline in employment that has disproportionately affected women and in particular women of color. This economic crisis facing women, colloquially termed “she-cession”, is so significant that the White House is considering it a national emergency. There are some necessary and significant actions that need to be taken and yet once again these measures, that literally translate into life and death for vulnerable people in our country, are mired in politics.
Why have we failed to act? The government response is often that childcare is too expensive. Is it? We know the long-term positive effects of early childhood education and care and we know that neglecting this area now causes more economic strain on our society later. These costs are well documented. Many critics of government intervention in the crisis of childcare in our country claim that the government should not be involved in family decisions and that it equates to “socialism”. This argument is curious because it is often these same politicians that run on a platform of pro-life, but it seems they are “pro-life” only of unborn children. The enthusiasm and fervor over saving the children seems to significantly wain once these little bundles of joy are born. There is also the argument that providing more government aid for childcare will disincentivize women from being the primary caregivers of their children. I don’t think so. Women take on the responsibilities in the home often called the invisible “second shift” of work not because they want to, but because they have no choice.
Over 12 million women have lost their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic. Even if women’s jobs are intact or deemed “essential”, as many jobs predominantly held by women are, women with children must choose between their jobs and their families as school closures forced parents to become teachers, parents and workers all at once.
Our Love in Action sessions are always focused on what we can do. To truly resolve the stress and vulnerabilities of women in the workplace, we need to reckon with the value we place on work (paid and unpaid) and the understanding of support needed by families. Centering the needs of women, in particular women of color, as we consider recovery and permanent policy is important to the wellbeing of families and our economy. To learn more about what you can do to support women in this most vulnerable of time, please visit our Love in Action Tool Kits on our website. If you work locally in this arena, please list any resources or links in the comments below.
Gina Murdock is the founder Lead with Love, an Aspen-based nonprofit dedicated to shifting culture from fear to love. Gina writes a monthly column for The Aspen Times inspired by Lead with Love’s newest offering “Love in Action”, a Zoom work session the first Wednesday of each month intended to inspire positive action from the heart to address some of the most pressing issues of our time. This month, Love in Action Director Erica Simon contributed to this article. For more information, go to http://www.ileadwithlove.org.