Viewpoint: Women suffer the most harm from COVID-19

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Karen Rubin, Columnist

Gun shops are considered “essential services” by Trump and his ilk during this coronavirus pandemic, even as incidents of domestic violence spike. Women’s reproductive health services? Not essential.

Indeed, during the nationwide lockdown, there has been a 20 percent increase in domestic violence, there are lines around the block at gun shops, and there is a well-known link between guns and domestic violence – for sure, we see AK-47 and AR-15 wielding Trumpers intimidating lawmakers, undermining authority notably of “that woman” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, to force her and others to end social-distancing intended to mitigate the high rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

They demonstrate their misogyny in the cavalier attitude toward making sure healthcare workers have adequate Personal Protective Equipment. Women are also the overwhelming majority of minimum wage earners like those in the meat packing plants ordered to return to work while the employers are not required to implement any safety measures.  If they refuse, they will lose unemployment insurance, and I’ll bet they don’t have access to health insurance when they are sickened. Women are the majority of workers in grocery stores and nursing homes.

All these jobs have been given lip service as “essential” but are really being treated as “expendable” and in some cases as “sacrificial” and it is no coincidence that the majority are women.

“Eighty percent of all healthcare workers are women, one out of three jobs held by women has been classified as essential,” said 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in a recent Women for Biden virtual town hall in which she endorsed Joe Biden for president. “This is an issue that affects all of us, young and old, every background, walk of life, but has disproportionate impact on women on the front lines, working, caring for others, holding down their home.”

Right wing states are exploiting the coronavirus in a shameful way to undermine women’s rights, starting with designating abortion as an “elective procedure” that cannot be performed during the lockdown. Their wink-and-a-nod rationale is to preserve limited PPE resources, except that early-stage medical abortions don’t require much in the way of PPE, and certainly less than multiple prenatal examinations, a possible C-section, the risk to the woman during maternity (Texas has one of the highest maternal death rates) and ongoing medical care that the woman or the child might need which states like Texas fail to provide. And “elective” implies that there is no risk to delaying a procedure, when obviously abortions are time-sensitive.

Further exposing the fraud, these states are also prohibiting medication for abortion that eliminates the need for a surgical procedure – even outlawing receiving the medication by mail.

The misogynistic regimes are exploiting the pandemic in other ways as well: in Florida, the court (no doubt packed with Trump’s unqualified ideologues) granted a man sole custody of a couple’s children because their mother was a doctor on the front line of the coronavirus.

Underscoring what Trump has failed to do, Biden outlined the measures he would take to mitigate the heightened stresses on women during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond, beginning with insuring access to health care; ramping up testing and making testing, treatment and an eventual vaccine for COVID-19 free for all regardless of insurance or immigration status; picking up the full cost of COBRA premiums for women who have lost their jobs; opening Obamacare enrollment, instead of using the courts to gut the landmark law; and stopping states from using the pandemic to curtail access to abortions.

He would address the heightened levels of domestic violence, sexual assault and abuse of women and girls by improving text, chat and phone-based assistance so women can obtain help; expand access to sexual assault programs and child advocacy centers as well as shelters, enlisting FEMA; and provide financial assistance to survivors who otherwise would be financially bound to their abuser.

The ultimate irony is the Trump campaign politicizing the Tara Reade allegations against Biden. That is beyond hypocrisy, beyond chutzpah coming from a guy who was credibly accused of actual sexual assault by 19 women and who has obstructed any actual investigation. Biden should not be attacked as if he committed the acts of sexual predation that Trump has been accused of because of his habit of hugging women, rubbing their shoulders or tapping their head. That’s not the same as illegally paying off a porn star with whom Trump had an illicit sexual affair to keep the secret from voters, or boasting that when you are a celebrity, you can “grab ‘em by the pussy.”

It’s one thing for women to be listened to, respected and taken seriously, but quite another to immediately condemn or to lump every indiscretion as the same – that undermines what the #MeToo movement seeks to achieve. Moreover, there are gradations of a crime, from misdemeanor to felony – saying something off color is not the same as sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape. And there still have to be standards of “innocent until proven guilty.” It shouldn’t be so easy to destroy a person’s entire career. Nor should we apply the same cultural measuring rod of today to decades ago.

And women do lie, like the woman who lied about a UVA campus rape. How many would like to be as famous as Monica Lewinsky forever known as bringing down a president and changing history? As it is, Tara Reade’s story has shifted and is unsupported by any evidence that should have been available like a copy of her Senate complaint.

Republicans (who seem inoculated from shame or hypocrisy) have learned they can use the Democrats’ moral standard to commit political suicide. Now will the press do what they did with Hillary Clinton’s emails and make this the focus, distracting from Biden’s record such as championing the Violence Against Women Act and policies he would implement as president at a time when campaigning has been hamstrung, even as Trump campaigns from the White House and manipulates states to reopen so he can hold his dangerous rallies?

3 COMMENTS

  1. With respect to your headline- you do know about the much higher rates of COVID-19 mortality in males than females, right?

    • It’s not just mortality. Kindly read the column. Unemployment is higher. More women in healthcare, frontline, essential jobs at greater risk, anxiety of getting sick, having to care for children, parents; financial hardship is greater. More women in minimum wage jobs.

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