Will COVID-19 Shut Women Out of Politics?

Amanda Hunter | Apr 28, 2020


As the COVID-19 pandemic grows, the crisis’ effects are spreading throughout the country. Already, the virus is disproportionately affecting women. Women represent 70 percent of the global health care workforce, have lost their jobs at higher rates than men, and are shouldering new burdens during this stressful time. Unfortunately, the effects may be taking a toll on women’s political participation in 2020.

Women are getting even busier.

Despite increased political participation since 2016, our research shows that women identify time as being the biggest barrier to getting politically involved. Women cite being too busy working or taking care of their families to participate and stay up-to-date in politics. COVID-19 be making this problem even worse. As children are kept home from schools and childcare centers, families are struggling to provide childcare. As women often disproportionately shoulder the responsibility of taking care of children and the home, it may be hard to find time to get involved while juggling their other responsibilities. Our previous research showed that 31% of women said they would become more involved during the 2020 election, but the coronavirus may make that difficult.

Campaigns are changing.

Even for women who can make time for politics, getting involved is challenging. Traditionally, campaigns rely on in-person contact and events to gain votes, but social distancing guidelines present obstacles.

Now, volunteering and campaigning in public is difficult, especially when women can’t go door knocking. Political events have been cancelled, or at least moved online. Women can no longer attend marches or rallies to support candidates or issues that matter to them. Nearly one-fourth of millennial women reported attending a march, rally, or protest since 2016, which will be impossible to do in the coming months.

Women also make a mark on elections through donations, spending over $517 million in 2018. With unemployment rates skyrocketing, many women may not have the financial flexibility to support candidates this election cycle.

Politicians must advocate for women.

While it may be difficult for women to find the time and resources to be politically involved, it’s critical that elected officials still keep a focus on their interests. Hawaii’s Commission on the Status of Women just revealed a feminist economist recovery plan which looks to build a more equitable system. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith are keeping childcare workers in mind, proposing a $50 billion plan to protect the centers. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik just proposed funding for school-based health centers to provide aid to children and their families in vulnerable areas.

These disproportionate effects on women are proving how important it is that women’s voices and interests are heard in the recovery efforts. Women leaders have already proven that they bring unique strengths to a crisis. Now more than ever, it’s critical that leaders keep the needs of women in mind – especially those who can’t participate in politics right now.

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