A Discussion and Call to Action on the Pandemic’s Impact on Women and Girls
November 24, 2020
Aminah B. McCloud Al-Deen, Ph.D., founder and chair of the Islamic World Studies Program at DePaul University, and one of the preeminent scholars on Islam in America. Her research, writing, and teaching focus especially on global Muslim cultures, Islam in America, Islamic law, African American Islam and Muslim women in the U.S.
First of all, I want to thank Women’s Freedom forum for bringing all these wonderful colleagues which I didn’t know I have, together. This has been a wonderful morning, and I’m learning about more stuff I didn’t know about, which I will make sure to highlight in different places.
Also, I want to thank you for the opportunity to talk about African American, Muslim and non-Muslim women, who are rarely in these kinds of forums and do not know about the wonderful work about women. Of course, the United States has NGO’s, they rarely work on the ground here. So it is important I take this information back, and hopefully those listening will observe some of these statistics and insight, as we are all struggling around the world.
Most African American women live in a complex of struggles and small victories. The impact of COVID is experienced in varying degrees depending on socio-economic status and whether or not they live in segregated areas of a city or suburb. They struggle with various types of implicit and explicit, segregated housing, over-priced housing, food deserts, lack of access to quality healthcare, while remarkably emerging as community leaders in all areas. According to Essence magazine, black women make-up more than half of the black population and are in influential positions in social and cultural organizations. They head about 30% of households and perform many of societies’ essential jobs. During this pandemic many have gotten a rare chance to be at home with children and an opportunity to participate in their learning all the while navigating available resources.
From a health perspective, many of those surveyed (67%-70%) were worried about contracting COVID while knowing the absolute necessity of working, since many work in hourly –pay jobs without sick time, or mental health days and very few if any vacation days. Many of these same women are the primary care givers for elderly family members who either live with them, in nursing homes or nearby. In the absence of the usual pool of professional care givers, a loving task has become difficult especially if the elderly members of the family are hospitalized and hospital restrictions do not permit advocates or visitors. The zoom or Facetime visit was not enough to provide directives or consolation in many instances.
There’s been a suspicion that many are just allowed to die, as recently as yesterday, they have discovered lots of bodies were stacked up in storage rooms where the family has not been notified that they died. Working with
Working, when possible, opened a new avenue of concern as children were sometimes left to monitor themselves during remote classes and through homework and given a task to check on with aunts, uncles and grandparents. Clearly the pulling together of most families is laudable though challenging.
As the primary orchestra conductors in most families, women found that though the necessary duties were increasing exponentially, so too were worries about finances, housing and food stocks. Segregated living has caused food deserts. Some neighborhoods do not have grocery stores for 3-5 miles. In America that’s unique. What has replaced them is what is called “the corner store.” These stores carry liquor, candy, cigarettes, and milk, bread some small packages of the essentials. Even these stores were forced to close during pandemic surges. Grocery store shelves emptied quickly as people hoarded. Food banks were depleted rapidly. Nevertheless, black women who worked the front lines in hospitals, social service agencies. The United States Post Office continued to go to work with and without adequate protection, fearful and anxious.
Many of these women witnessed and participated in Black Lives Matter protests over the wanton police shootings of their children and other loved ones. Wheelchairs joined bicycles and strollers as women took to the streets in multiracial protests over police murders. COVID did not stop the protests which continue today. The grief has yet to receive any glimpse of resolution. Families go on with heavy hearts and for some family members the lack of justice is too much to bear and suicides rates increase.
Some families have moved in with other families when job loss results in home loss leading in some cases to overcrowded dwellings and a decrease in COVID protections. Landlords and mortgage holders are increasingly ignoring the moratorium on collections of monies and states have little power to enforce them. The streets of many major cities are slowing beginning to fill this winter as calls go out for winter clothing for children, blankets, tents and other winter essentials. Most shelters remain closed as do many nursing homes further complicating many social issues. The largess of many restaurants in giving away food has run out as they too, are closing with the social distancing and the current surge.
The effects of all of this on mental health of both children and mothers is not yet tabulated but the police report of a significant increase in domestic violence and child abuse are more than antidotal. Public violence is high because of the pandemic and the anxiety is high. Parents never thought they would spend every waking moment with children and young adults who can’t go out even to play.