Women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Will we help them?

Public domain image via Pixabay

Nearly three million American women have suddenly vanished, and we have no idea if they’ll ever return. We of course mean the women who have been forced to drop out of the labor force over the past year in a COVID-related exodus that will have an impact lasting generations.  

The Pew Research Center reports nearly 2.5 million more women than men lost their jobs from February to May last year. As school buildings closed, women have had to leave jobs to care for children. Female business owners have had to close their doors, not knowing if they’ll ever reopen. Black, Latina and other women of color, already far behind their white male and female counterparts, have been pushed even further into poverty.  

Over a year into the pandemic there is no doubt that women are bearing the brunt of this ongoing social and economic catastrophe. 

Arizona is not immune from this economic crisis. A report from the Arizona Foundation for Women on how women and children have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic outlines the devastation Arizona women have suffered during COVID. In Arizona, 21% of low-income women lack health insurance and 29% of Latina women have no health care provider. This was an alarming reality in pre-pandemic times, but during a global pandemic, it could also be a death sentence. 

Almost 1 in 3 Arizona households have experienced food insecurity since COVID-19 showed up — a 28% increase from the year prior to the pandemic. Hispanic households, households with children and households who experienced a job disruption were more likely to be both persistently and newly food insecure. 

Domestic violence-related calls in Phoenix have doubled since the start of the pandemic, according to the Phoenix Police Department. And domestic violence-related deaths in Arizona have increased 140% compared since last year. Phoenix area shelters have reported a 50% drop in shelter capacity due to COVID-19, leading to fewer safe places for women and children escaping their abusers.

While these numbers are alarming, there are solutions to help Arizona women and children, if Arizona’s lawmakers and governor are brave and compassionate enough to take them on. Arizona state and local governments will receive an estimated $7.48 billion that could be spent any time before the end of 2024, thanks to the American Rescue Plan that was passed by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Joe Biden. That’s money for our communities, schools, workers, families and so much more to build back better and stronger after the pandemic.  

On top of that critical funding, Arizona also has a $351 million budget surplus that should be used to help Arizonans. It is imperative that these critical funds reach the people who need it most. 

To do that, we need to fund critical social safety net programs that Democrats and Arizonans have long supported. That means expanding access to childcare subsidies and food programs, paid family leave, kinship care stipends for people who take in their family members children, increasing unemployment insurance benefits for Arizonans who’ve been pushed out of work due the pandemic, small business grants to local businesses that’ve been forced to close or lay off workers, and rent and mortgage relief for renters and homeowners. And there are so many other programs that will make Arizona stronger if we invest in them. 

Our government’s response has failed to meet this historic challenge and exposed severe flaws in our social safety net. The pandemic has further exposed gender- and race-based health disparities in Arizona, and we must work to identify and address these issues. 

We have the ideas and resources to make a difference. We only need the political will. 

The pandemic has thrown into starker relief just how vulnerable women and women of color are, and why we need to prioritize their recovery. As Michelle Obama said, “The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls.” 

Arizona can and must treat its women and girls better or risk a crisis that will impact all of us.

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Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix
Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix

Rebecca Rios is a Democrat from Legislative District 27, which covers parts of south and west Phoenix. She was first elected to the legislature in 1994 and served until 2000. She was again elected in 2012.

Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson
Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson

Victoria Steele is a Democratic state senator from Tucson. She was elected to the state Senate in 2018, and served in the state House of Representatives prior to that.