Can these unprecedented times reveal the pathway to a more equitable future?
For many women, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought gender inequity into sharp focus. The disproportionate impacts on women have caused an imbalance in competing priorities of their multiple roles, from marriage and motherhood to career and caregiving. Yet the disparities that have been exposed may also reveal a more equitable path forward. This moment in history is prime for progress, poised for a feminist transformation.
The month of March is dedicated to honoring women’s contributions in American history. At UC San Diego, it is known as “Women’s Herstory Month,” to amplify the stories and lived experiences of women. The campus’s 2021 theme is “Feminist Transformations,” an invitation for all to reflect on the possibilities to create change that exist after an unprecedented year, from systemic racism and injustices to the public health crisis and the gendered impacts of school and childcare closures.
“I think of ‘Feminist Transformations’ as envisioning a future where marginalized genders—such as women/femmes, non-binary folks, those who are queer, and communities of color—are able to live lives that are not substantially impacted by structural barriers,” explained Monique Nguyễn, a third-year undergraduate student studying sociology with a minor in ethnic studies. She is also an intern at UC San Diego’s Women’s Center.
A balancing act
Izabel C. Francy, a counselor with the UC San Diego Faculty and Staff Assistance Program, a unit of Campus Human Resources, has heard firsthand the work-life balance challenges that have emerged for employees with children, particularly women. She leads two support groups, including “Working Moms of 0-5 Year Old’s Support Group” and “Working Parents Support Group.” It is a safe space to share hardships, engage in open conversation and problem-solving and simply validate experiences.
“I can say wholeheartedly that the majority of what I have seen is resiliency,” said Francy, though she also explained that many women she speaks with do not recognize this attribute in themselves. “We often create judgment around our existence—‘I should be thriving in the face of difficulty, not just surviving’—yet resilience, courage and strength are always present.”
According to UC San Diego Sociology Professor Mary Blair-Loy, women have faced more hardship during the pandemic, especially as they have typically held more responsibility for childcare and elder care than men. “The burden of supervising children’s online learning has disproportionately fallen on women’s shoulders,” said Blair-Loy, who was quoted in a New York Times story on the topic of how the pandemic has revealed how the conflicting demands of work and parenting have collided.
Blair-Loy continued, “Women have been more likely than men to lose or leave their paid jobs, which can create career and financial challenges long after the pandemic is contained. I hope that we do not return to the status quo but use this fresh attention to set up more equitable sharing of labor at home and at work.”
Simply finding a place at home conducive to productivity has also been difficult. “If I had a meeting at the same time, I would be the one that would move to a different room because I felt that my job is ‘less demanding,’” explained Asmaa Deiranieh, program coordinator with the UC San Diego Center for Community Health.
Imagining a more equitable future
How can this period of uncertainty be capitalized to create a new future that is more just? Scripps Institution of Oceanography doctoral student Tashiana Osborne believes that continuing to improve representation of women of color and other underrepresented groups within leadership positions is a valuable step forward. “To more holistically address complex problems, we need representation in leadership roles within STEM, policy and humanities to inform and implement effective, equitable and sustainable policies.”
These transformations can be seen right here on the UC San Diego campus. Women currently occupy 63% of all senior leadership roles at the university. The number of women on the chancellor’s cabinet has increased from three to 10 in the past decade. Half of all deans and four out of seven college provosts at UC San Diego are women. And the number of women ladder ranked faculty and teaching professors at UC San Diego have increased by 37% since 2014.
For undergraduate student Nguyễn, an equitable future for women would involve improved access to quality health care for low-income communities; better childcare infrastructures with support systems available for all income levels; expanded paid leave options for maternal and paternal leave; as well as an increase in the number of health professionals of color. “The pandemic has clearly revealed the flaws of our healthcare system but has also exposed the inequities that women of color face, especially low-income Indigenous, Latinx and Black women,” she said.
In addition to access to quality health care, securing basic needs such as food during the pandemic is equally crucial. Lizzy Cooper, program manager with the campus’s Center for Community Health, has seen a large increase in the number of families experiencing food insecurity, especially the female head of the household. Her vision for a more equitable future: “Better national and federal responses that include everything from increasing the money paid in food programs to standard allotments for childcare to households with young children.”
New layers of resilience
As Osborne looks back at the tumultuous year, she acknowledges the presence of both adversity and personal growth. Each woman’s journey has been unique, and the path forward will be shaped by a new understanding of where their strengths lie. “There’s power in processing and learning from what you’ve overcome and gathering healthy tools to keep going,” said Osborne. “For some, the pandemic has presented silver linings and for others it has predominantly presented more challenges. My hope is that many will ultimately come out stronger with new layers of resilience.”
Francy echoed the sentiment that this is a time of transformation, and an ideal moment to amplify the answers within. “Women are innately powerful—in our connections to ourselves; to our bodies, spirits and souls; to each other, our community and our world. We have all of the answers we are searching for within ourselves.”
What is the answer? As we begin to recover from a crippling epidemic, it is an opportune time to explore new insights and advance gender equity for a more just future. To engage and learn more, you are invited to visit the virtual Women’s Center, one of six campus community centers led by the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The Women’s Center is dedicated to fostering the educational, professional and personal development of diverse groups of women.