On Monday, March 8, International Women’s Day, EMU hosted a virtual panel entitled “The global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women: intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, work, and immigration.”
The panel was organized by Solange Simoes, Professor of Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies at EMU and it is a part of EMU’s ongoing 2020-2021 Women’s and Gender Studies lecture series.
The panel had three different speakers. Bandana Purkayastha, Professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut, spoke about the impact of COVID-19 on women in the United States. Denise Pimenta, a researcher for the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil, spoke about COVID-19, gender, and race in Brazil. Naomi Lightman, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Calgary in Canada, spoke about care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic; specifically, immigrant women workers in Canada.
Purkayastha discussed different challenges women of color have faced during the pandemic, such as higher rates of being laid off, more exposure to the virus as they care for infected people, and increased pressure to leave their jobs to take care of their families.
“We can’t look at the story of the pandemic if we don’t look at certain groups. Racial disparities are historic and earlier structural divides become more enhanced on a day-to-day level," Purkayastha said.
Pimenta talked about challenges Brazil has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the Brazilian government’s systematic dismantling of scientific, educational, and health sectors. This has caused issues with vaccine distribution, access to online educational materials for students, and a lack of proper safety training for workers.
Minorities such as women, indigenous people, ethnic minorities, and people living in rural areas are most affected by these problems.
Lightman discussed the issues that immigrant women care workers in Canada face, including low wages, mental illness, and staffing shortages. Solutions to these problems could include paid sick leave, more staff, higher pay plus overtime pay, mental health support, and increased access to childcare.
A common sentiment that was echoed by all three panelists: “to address setbacks to women’s rights, we need structural change,” Purkayastha said.