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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Anthro Talks: The intersection of race and gender with COVID-19


Content warning: This column mentions domestic violence. 

Just over a year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, one must stop to reflect on how the pandemic has revealed structural health and economic vulnerabilities along racial and gender lines.

Though a “we’re all in this together” mentality attempts to boost national morale in battling COVID-19, it shrouds the structural inequities faced by Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Latino and other marginalized groups who bear disproportionate effects of COVID-19, not to mention HIV/AIDS, hypertension, poverty, diabetes, climate change disasters, unemployment, mass incarceration and more

Nationwide,COVID-19 deaths for Indigenous, Black, and Hispanic or Latino populations are 2.4, 1.9 and 2.3 times the rate of deaths for white people, respectively. According to the CDC, front-line workers in health care facilities, farms, factories, grocery stores and public transportation, are often racial and ethnic minorities, who face the highest risk of contracting COVID-19. Often white, middle-class and wealthy people direct these essential workers, deciding who lives or dies. Since the structure of theAmerican schooling system limits minority groups from equal education access, minorities often face limited job options and less flexibility to leave jobs, placing them at higher virus exposure risk. Housing also poses a threat, with minorities facing disproportionate risks of eviction, and condensed housing styles making it troublesome to prevent COVID-19 spread.

The pandemic also deepens gender inequalities. COVID-19 affects women’s economic lives disproportionately because women throughout the world earn less than men and more often hold insecure jobs in the informal sector, according to a 2020policy brief from the United Nations. They also make up the majority of single-parent households. Furthermore,women face the strain of performing an average of 75% of global unpaid care work, including child care, elder care, cooking and cleaning. As hospitals struggled to address the flow of COVID-19 infections, women bore the brunt of a growing role as unpaid caregivers, especially of older people. While managing greater home care demands, their jobs disproportionately face cuts and layoffs, common in thefemale-overrepresented service sector, including retail, hospitality and tourism. School closures due to the pandemic mean girls may be handling more chores at home (girls spendmore hours on chores compared to boys), leading to the possibility of millions dropping out of school before completing their education. Even more saddening, social distancing restrictions have led to a 25% increase in gender-based violence reports in countries that have established reporting systems, according to the United Nations policy brief.In Argentina, emergency calls for cases of domestic violence haveincreased by 25% since the start of the pandemic.

These disproportionate effects are present in Somerville, too. An undocumented womaninterviewed by two Massachusetts anthropologistsrevealed how the pandemic constrained undocumented women’s economic impact across borders. The woman migrated to Somerville in 2005 to support her family in El Salvador (including sending $150 a month to her ill mother) by cleaning office buildings in Boston. With COVID-19, her stability vanished; her husband lost his restaurant job and she was furloughed and unable to claim unemployment due to her undocumented status. She was faced with two care challenges: She could not send remittances home and needed to care for her children without income.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous difficulties in particular for women who are essential workers, multiplying the already present negative effects of capitalism, racism and sexism, on their livelihoods, health and well-being.