During the pandemic, I have found myself in two conflicting worlds.
One is filled with accomplishment and a sense of purpose as we launched the Women's Fund of Greater Fort Wayne in August 2020 – a milestone for our community.
And the other is filled with guilt as I have navigated the pandemic in a happy marriage, a job that allows me ultimate flexibility as I manage two children and their schooling all in a home where I feel safe.
The truth I have learned during my journey through this pandemic is that my experience is full of freedoms and privilege.
This is not true for many women in our community.
For me, the Women's Fund has created an opportunity to look inward and ask: “How can I use my privilege to help others?”
Through my work with the Women's Fund, I see commitment being made in addressing issues that affect women's economic security in three areas: employment, personal safety, and young women and girls.
Through research, education and advocacy, the Women's Fund will positively change the landscape for women and girls in our community.
As the Women's Fund looks to affect the future, we must understand the present: not only the data we have for our community on women and girls, but also by acknowledging the effects of the pandemic on our current reality.
Within the fund's areas of focus, here is what is known thus far about COVID-19's impact on women and girls:
1) The COVID-19 pandemic recession is being called a “shecession,” and for good reason.
According to an analysis by the National Women's Law Center, in December 2020, women accounted for all the jobs lost.
While the U.S. economy lost a net 140,000 jobs at the end of last year, women accounted for 156,000 lost jobs while men gained 16,000 jobs.
It is true that in portions of our nation's history, we have also experienced “mancessions”; however, the data shows our current economy is disproportionately affecting female-dominated industries such as hospitality and retail. Women of color are affected at even higher rates.
2) According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, sexual violence increases during states of emergency including natural disasters, active conflict and health crises.
However, current reported cases of both sexual assault and domestic abuse nationally have drastically decreased.
This is not because of a lack of violence, but is related to a lack of reporting. According to the resource center, “the reporting of sexual violence during disasters is often considered a 'luxury issue – something further down on the hierarchy of needs' for disaster victims.”
Lack of reporting is multifaceted, including the fear of going to a hospital where a victim may contract the virus and be there alone.
Underreporting is also seen locally. According to the YWCA of Northeast Indiana, crisis shelter stays have decreased from previous peaks of 90 to 110 clients to current numbers of 35 to 45.
3) Stressors from COVID-19 have exacerbated mental health issues that already taxed young women and girls.
Disrupted routines, separation from friends, and worry about national and world events add additional stressors to young people who do not yet have the tools to cope.
According to the Women and Girls Study of Greater Fort Wayne, before the pandemic girls reported feelings of anxiety and depression, and had a higher rates of suicide contemplation than their male counterparts.
An average of 50% of girls ranging from grades 7 to 12 grades had consistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
We can assume these statistics have increased in the face of the pandemic and many more young women and girls are struggling.
The Women's Fund of Greater Fort Wayne is dedicated to uncovering causes of economic and social inequities for women and girls.
By becoming a member of the Women's Fund, you will increase your education and awareness of these issues in our community, and be connected with opportunities to support and take action to influence change.
As we celebrate Women's History Month this March, we as a community need to ask ourselves what we are doing not only to celebrate the history and successes of women in the past, but how we help others and create a brighter future, beyond the pandemic, for a stronger community for all.
Alison Gerardot is vice president of philanthropic services and Women's Fund coordinator for the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne.