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by Tsion Ghedamu, Program Manager, Aspen Global Innovators Group 

The COVID-19 pandemic has sent a shock through our society and across our economies. In this time of uncertainty with COVID-19, we are seeing the strength and compassion of individuals throughout our nation and the world fighting to keep us safe. The backbone of so many countries are women. Women are on the frontlines working as doctors, nurses, scientists, community volunteers, and more to help combat this pandemic. In the United States alone women comprise over 90% of the nurse population and collectively are 78% of health care workers. Globally women comprise 70% of the healthcare workforce. Women have been and are continuing to literally save lives on a daily basis. 

Women are also primary caregivers, making them especially vulnerable due to the shutdown of schools and businesses. As we understand, COVID-19 spreads easier amongst families, leaving caregivers more at risk when they take care of their sick family members. As we saw with the Ebola outbreaks, researchers found, “Women’s increased exposure can be attributed to time spent at home and their responsibility for caring for the sick, while men’s increased vulnerability to the virus can be attributed to their responsibility for caring for livestock and to time spent away from home.”

Not only are women risking their lives by taking care of sick family members at home and by leaving their homes to take care of sick individuals outside of their home, they are also vulnerable to another epidemic that can be aggravated during this period of social isolation: Violence against women is another public health crisis that becomes difficult to address when women are required to be isolated in their homes with potenial domestic violence partners.  

Economically, women are also impacted tremendously. Working mothers are now trying to figure out how to provide childcare for their families when children are at home permanently for the next couple of months. Working mothers who are teachers now have to convert their lesson plans to online platforms while also guiding the homeschooling process for their own children at home. There are also about 11.5 million migrant workers in the world and 8.5 million of them identify as women. The impact of social distancing and shutdowns are staggering for these women as their contractual arrangements are precarious. 

COVID-19 gives us all a unique opportunity to transform the systems that we have been so accustomed to, and it provides us with an unmistakable look at the power and resilience of women. As we think about how societies are going to look post-COVID-19, we need to make sure women and girls are not only centered in this societal transformation but are also leading the charge.