One small piece of good news about the COVID crisis is that there seems to be more awareness than ever about its gendered impacts. This piece in the New York Times, for example, discusses how women make up the majority of health care workers, and how, on top of that, they are more likely to take on the caregiving of sick people in their own families, and the care of children.
There are lots of things we can do to mitigate these impacts, but it will take conscious effort to resist the pull toward harmful gender norms. More than ever, we need to defend women’s rightful place in leadership and decision-making to end the COVID crisis. Think about it: if we had more women’s leadership at the table right now, say, for example, if Hillary Clinton had become President, we might be taking a much different approach to addressing this crisis, one that recognizes the validity of science and the need for preventative measures in health care.
We also need to make a conscious effort to deal with the complex interaction of factors that will impact some women even more. Beyond women in general being at greater risk, there are also women who will likely be at even further risk because of compounding factors, including race, age, sexual orientation, immigration status, and disability status. These additional factors will add more load to what women are already bearing.
The Womens’ Foundation of California will provide rapid-response grants through its Relief and Resilience Fund. In Boston, the Women’s Foundation of Boston has also started a Boston Response Fund to provide support for women and girls in these times. As time goes on, more women’s funds will likely be adding funding streams directed to COVID response. Texas Women’s Foundation has also started a Resilience Fund to address the impact of COVID on women. Supporting these funds is an important way to make a difference.
How we got here is a very good question to be asking ourselves regularly, so that we can do it differently going forward.
That means funders need to look at creative ways to realign systemic change that will improve the quality of life for everyone, and particularly for health care and child care workers. Many of these workers will need to take sick time and family leave over the next year, and funding to support that happening will be critical.
Looking at the portfolio you already have as a funder and reinforcing funding to efforts that support quality employment with benefits for women is a good idea. Also, funding systems advocacy organizations that are promoting healthy wages and reducing the wage gap for women is another sound approach.
The Global Fund for Women has provided a helpful outline of how it is responding to the crisis by being increasingly flexible, allowing for funding to cover costs of cancelled events, and encouraging other funders to be similarly flexible in their approach.
Åsa Regnér is the UN Women Deputy Executive Director and in this article she outlines ten issues that need to be considered when forming community responses to COVID. These range from ensuring adequate shelter for women because we know rates of domestic violence go up in times of cultural crisis, to providing direct cash to individuals rather than to families to make sure women get the money, to ensuring that girls and women have adequate access to testing and treatment for COVID. These are all important considerations for funders when making grants right now.
This piece by Leila Billing on Medium entitled What Does Feminist Leadership Look Like in a Pandemic? makes several important points. The biggest point is the one that often gets made in feminist circles: we are only as safe, or empowered, as the most vulnerable among us. This has never been more true, and in fact the entire dynamic of COVID has caused us to invert the usual power pyramid in society and prioritize those who are more vulnerable. Recognizing this can help ground your funding approach to COVID in addressing the ne of others and allow you to put those others in the driver’s seat for designing and carrying out the grant activity.
Author: Kiersten Marek