Women Have Risen to Heroic Heights During Covid-19

Yet, the global pandemic in physical and sexual violence against women continues unabated and worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.

Published by Common Dreams and the Recorder, May 2020

by  H. Patricia Hynes

Women have risen to heroic heights during this pandemic—comprising the majority of essential health care workers, leading successful countries in containing the coronavirus, homeschooling children while working from home.  And yet, the global pandemic in physical and sexual violence against women continues unabated and worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.

Heroic Heights

As of mid-April, women led six of seven countries with the best record of containing Covid-19 infections and deaths: Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Denmark.As of mid-April, women led six of seven countries with the best record of containing Covid-19 infections and deaths: Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Denmark.  While most of these frontrunners are small, Germany is the most populous country in Western Europe.  And Norway is comparable in population to the medical mecca Massachusetts, which became a hotspot of infection and deaths soon after New York City, given its delay in implementing a testing and contact-tracing program.

Though taking different approaches, some lockdowns, some not, the women-led successful countries acted immediately and decisively with testing, tracking, widespread education, adequate personal protection, and with ongoing personal communication through press conferences, some for children only. Remarking on the example of these women leaders, one commentator—a consultant to business on women’s leadership—points to studies that show “women are more likely to lead through inspiration, transforming people’s attitudes and beliefs, and aligning people with meaning and purpose than men are.”

Nurses on the Front Lines

The crisp crisis-driven prose of Simone Hannah-Clark, an intensive care unit nurse in New York City, takes us non-stop through one long day typical of the hundreds of thousands of critical care nurses on the front lines of the pandemic.  Rising early while her family slept; avoiding the too quiet, dark subway (because of risk of sexual assault?) for Lyft; at the hospital having to quickly wedge two beds, ventilators and sets of monitors into rooms sized for one, for the tidal wave of Covid-19 patients; swiftly hooking up her patients to a half dozen monitors and machines; haunted with worry about reusing personal protective equipment in short supply throughout a 12-hour shift; and bearing respectful witness to those who die. “We wrap the patient’s body, securely, stroking her brow and wishing her well on her next journey.”   “Doctors,” she notes, “may be the architects of what happens in the hospital. But we are the builders.”  And so the nurses—almost all women—build ceaselessly amidst overflowing trash buckets; and shortages of equipment, sedating drugs, stretchers and beds within the chaos of a broken health care system.

Cook Country Hospital, Chicago’s safety net and largest hospital serves the poor, homeless, incarcerated, insured and uninsured, immigrants regardless of legal status, and mainly people of color.  An ER nurse there recounts the tactic she resorted to in order to get N-95 masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for the ER nurses assisting extremely ill Covid-19 patients: a work sit-down in the break room.  The ER coordinator immediately found a PPE cart and N-95 masks for the nurses – equipment readily available to ER doctors – but wasted no time in demeaning their action as a “temper tantrum.”  “Something management would say only to nurses, who are 80-90 percent women…”—the nurse notes. To which she adds,  “We are fighting back daily on the inside.”

As of May 12, 91 US nurses have died from Covid-19, while none has died in Canada, where a nationalized health care system prioritizes people over profit, meaning no Canadian nurses have to resort to using garbage bags and work sit-downs for personal protection.  Canada has 1/10th the population of the US.

The Underbelly of “Stay in Place”

Above all, men and boys must take responsibility for their emancipation from toxic male identity and behavior in seeking a path to healthy manhood.

Home, the refuge from the coronavirus, is the “hotspot” for physical and sexual assault of women and children.  Almost 1 in 3 women throughout the world (1 in 5 in North America and Western Europe) aged 15 and over have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence during their lifetime. Violence by an intimate partner is the leading cause of injury to women 15 to 44 years old.

This relentless pandemic in violence is now magnified with women having to stay in place with their batterers to protect against Covid-19.  As one feminist activist states, “this (coronavirus) pandemic can trigger a wave of violence, committed by men unable [and unwilling, I would add] to deal with the psychological, financial and social consequences of the crisis.”

The ER for assaulted women is hotlines, shelters, the courts, and hospitals—all needed but deeply inadequate without systemic prevention.  We—parents, educators, relatives and friends, media, religious leaders, politicians, coaches and mentors at large must challenge boys and men to be “another boy, another man against violence against women.”  Above all, men and boys must take responsibility for their emancipation from toxic male identity and behavior in seeking a path to healthy manhood.