Conversations: The pandemic’s toll on women of color

The pandemic's toll on women of color

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - It’s Black History Month, February, and WBRC FOX6 News is continuing our Conversations Series.

The YWCA of Central Alabama said it’s getting calls from not just individuals, but company leaders who want diversity training.

After the events of 2020, people are taking a second look at the YWCA which has eradicating racism at its foundation.

Dr. Larhonda Magras, YWCA of Central Alabama CEO, said, “Our mission is to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”

The YWCA of Central Alabama’s mission is bold, but not new. It’s been there since 2009 but these days it stands out.

Magras said, “I like to call it louder, we’re louder.”

Dr. Larhonda Magras said the need for what the YWCA does is now amplified. Magras said, “So we had people protesting… and for us it was are we doing enough are we loud enough? We were on the right track but we knew we had to have more conversations about what are the issues, the systemic issues because that is what racism is.”

“It’s one thing to hear people talk about racism and two different justice systems but to witness it, to witness someone losing their life in front of your face. That was very different for our country, not just our country but around the world,” said Magras.

Women are on the front lines of efforts to impact social change and in 2020 we all saw it. A collision of racial injustice, health disparities, joblessness, poverty and hunger, all at once pummeling from all sides in the middle of a pandemic.

Now studies show women are taking the brunt of it. Dr. Natasha Zaretsky, a UAB professor of women’s history, said, “Anytime there is a crisis like a pandemic that tears back the curtain on all of these imbalances that were already there, you have what they call crisis in care work. Care for children, care for the elderly that has long been disproportionately impacting women.”

UAB history professor Dr. Natasha Zaretsky teaches contemporary U.S. History and said the lessons are clear.

From the homefront to the workplace, women are doing some heavy lifting.

Dr. Zaretsky said, “So many of the industries that have been hurt by this pandemic restaurants, hotels, these are industries where you have especially women of color doing the vast proportion of that paid labor. They have been hurt really, really hard. The other piece of this, women are leaving the job market at much greater numbers, almost 900,000 women forced out of their jobs. These are four times the amount of men leaving at the same time,” said Dr. Zaretsky.

The last labor report shows another 275,000 women have left the workforce.

Magras said, “We have been living in now what has been coined the ‘shecession.’ It is really impacting women of color. They’re bearing the burden in a lot of ways of this economic disaster. What we have are women who are low wage earners and what are we doing to help them. Some of the things we do here at the YW is provide child care so we can get back to work. But as an organization we had to close too for a period of time last year and that just went against everything we believe in.” Meanwhile, calls to the YWCA of Central Alabama’s crisis line shot up way past pre-pandemic levels.

Dr. Magras said, “Almost 50 percent. There was a period of time right at the beginning of that pandemic the first couple of months where we saw calls increase and these were calls for life-saving help.”

“We have counseling for women who have experienced domestic violence but we also have what we call economic empowerment,” said Magras.

“Access and opportunity is social justice and that’s what we want to be about.”

And this month, the YW began offering training to corporations.

Magras said, “Looking at their own hiring practices, looking at their workforce in general. So to have a corporation say we want to be a part of the solution help us figure out how we can do that, that’s important.”

“Again, looking around the table and seeing who is missing from that conversation and what are you as an individual doing about it.”

Click here to find out more about the YWCA.

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