Dear Chicago NOW Community,
In the last month, COVID-19 has transformed our world as we know it. Here in Chicago, we are lucky to have proactive leaders who are working around the clock to mitigate the havoc the pandemic is wreaking on our society. To those of you who are essential workers on the front line of this battle—our healthcare workers, grocery store employees, delivery people and everyone else putting their lives on the line—we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Below are just a few examples of how COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting women in the most vulnerable parts of our community—and a few ways you can take action (even while sheltering in place) to help.
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Shelter-in-place orders can make women in abusive relationships feel trapped. As Vickie Smith, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence explains, “There’s more time for people to be together, creating the opportunity for volatile tempers to fly. But there are also fewer opportunities for victims to reach out for help.” Illinois’s domestic violence shelters are adapting to the pandemic by offering violence prevention services in different forms to comply with required social distancing. Rather than housing those fleeing from abusers in shelters, service providers are housing them in hotels and motels; and the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence was able to obtain an order of protection for a client via a telephonic hearing.
Additionally, the Illinois Department of Human Services just announced it will launch a $1.2 million plan to increase the capacity of its statewide network of services for survivors during the pandemic, expanding the role of the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline by creating a one-stop access point for counseling and shelter needs. Survivors can call 1-877-TO END DV (1-877-863-6338 voice or 1-877-863-6339 TTY) and be connected to shelter through existing domestic violence prevention and intervention shelter services or to emergency shelter through available hotels and motels.
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A growing number of states are taking advantage of the pandemic by seeking to ban abortion, classifying it as an unnecessary medical procedure. A federal appeals court just ruled that Texas can temporarily prohibit abortions after its governor signed an executive order halting all procedures that were not “immediately medically necessary” to save a life. Lawmakers in Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio and Oklahoma are also claiming that abortion is not medically necessary and that banning it will help conserve medical resources needed to fight COVID-19.
Abortion rights groups like Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights are taking every legal option they have to keep clinics open to provide abortion services during this time. Another method of fighting back against anti-choice lawmakers who are trying to restrict abortion access during the pandemic: advocate for greater access to the abortion pill.
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The pandemic has further exposed the brutal economic reality of low-paid women workers who are on the front line of the crisis. Home health aides, grocery store workers, and childcare workers are predominately women at high risk of viral exposure—but so many lack the basic protections of a decent wage, paid sick and family leave, and employer-sponsored healthcare. These women are in fear of losing their jobs due to the economic impact of the pandemic while also living with the lost earnings of the gender wage gap. If these lost wages were available to women now, they could help put food on the table, pay for medication and other healthcare expenses, and cover rent to avoid eviction.
Women of color are a large percentage of the workers filling these jobs and face the largest wage gap losses of all because they experience both a gender and racial wage gap. As stated by the National Women’s Law Center, “[t]he unfolding impacts of COVID-19 reveal just how many communities of women, and the families that depend on their earnings, are bearing the brunt of the longstanding gaps and underinvestment in our workplace laws, economic and social infrastructure, and policy choices that failed to center the needs of women, people of color, and families with low and moderate incomes.”
Recently released data from the Illinois Department of Health shows a “pandemic within the pandemic”: African Americans are significantly overrepresented in infection rates in Illinois, making up 14.6% of the state population but 28% of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Whites comprise 76.9% of the state population but only 39% of cases; and Latinos comprise 17.4% of the state population and 7% of cases.
Why the disproportionate impact? Lower-wage essential workers are more often women of color who are forced to put their lives on the line during this crisis to keep their families afloat. Furthermore, women of color in underserved areas of the city are already more likely to be battling chronic and undertreated health conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, and have limited access to healthier and affordable food options in their neighborhoods. To battle these concerns, Chicago could look to cities like Milwaukee, who declared racism a public health issue last summer, in order to address the impact that decades of race-based inequality has had on underserved communities.
Reporting racial breakdown of COVID-19 victims is only the first step in combating the disproportionate impact on Chicagoans of color. This week, Mayor Lightfoot declared a “public health red alarm,” announcing immediate actions her administration is taking to address the high levels of COVID-19 among African Americans—including requiring healthcare providers to collect demographic information for each COVID-19 patient treated, increasing bus service to the south and west sides to enable social distancing, and increasing surveillance of grocery and convenience stores on the south and west sides to enforce social distancing requirements.
So what can you do?
First things first: STAY HOME!
If you want to take concrete action:
- Attend Personal PAC’s TeleTown Hall: Abortion Access While Social Distancing tonight at 6:00 pm CST.
- Attend the National Council of Jewish Women’s Protecting Abortion Access During a Pandemic webinar tomorrow at 3:30 pm CST.
- Donate to Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Midwest Access Coalition or the Chicago Abortion Fund.
- Volunteer for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, which operates both the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE and its online version.
- Donate to or volunteer at LifeSpan, a local legal agency that assists domestic violence survivors with legal services, advocacy and counseling.
- Donate to local food banks, like Care for Real and the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
- Connect and engage with other activists via the Women’s March Foundation’s online community.
Finally, spread the word! Share this information with your friends and family, keep an eye out for further donation and volunteer opportunities from us and other organizations, and write or call your alderman and other local and state government officials—and help us make our city a better place for all women and girls.
We miss you, members. Look for further updates from us soon.