March is Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate the accomplishments of women throughout history — and to recognize how much women in America have overcome in the fight for equality. This March also marks one year since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States. Over the past 12 months, we have learned a lot about resilience and coming together for the common good. The pandemic also showed us that despite making tremendous gains in recent years, the struggle for equality for women is far from over.
In March 2020, life as we knew it changed dramatically. Millions of Americans lost their jobs, schools closed across the country, millions of people were infected with coronavirus — and over 500,000 people died. While the pandemic affected everyone to some degree, it hit certain groups of people harder, including women.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 55% of the 20.5 million workers who became unemployed in April 2020 were women. There are a number of reasons for this statistic, including that women tend to be the primary caregivers of children and make up the majority of service industry workers. Unsurprisingly, women of color — and particularly Black and Latinx women — lost the most jobs in the pandemic, and have experienced the slowest rate of recovery.
Women who continued to work during the pandemic often found themselves shouldering the bulk of unpaid care work, regardless of whether their partners were also working or not. This work includes household chores, childcare, and even caring for older relatives. On average, women in the United States spend twice as many hours doing this type of work than men do. The COVID-19 highlighted this massive disparity, with many women finding that even when their partners were working from home full-time, women still were primarily responsible for taking care of kids, the house, and other tasks — while also working full-time. Nearly 3 million women left the workforce between 2020 and 2021, due in part to inequality in caregiving responsibilities.
The pandemic has also had a more significant impact on women’s mental health, which may be linked to increased responsibilities at home and fewer opportunities to seek help. According to a survey, 53% of women stated that stress related to COVID-19 had a negative impact on their mental health, compared to 37% of men. For parents of children under the age of 18, the difference was much greater, with 57% of mothers and just 32% of men stating that the pandemic has affected their mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many issues within our society, including how much work we have to do to truly achieve equality. As we celebrate Women’s History Month this March, let’s set aside some time to consider how we can make a change for the better in 2021 and beyond.