The resolution passed in February, focusing on women’s struggles in the workplace, moves into its next steps.
(Somerville Wire) – At a City Council meeting on February 25, Councilor Kristen Strezo and co-sponsor, Councilor Katjana Ballantyne introduced a resolution demanding that a state of emergency for women be declared in Somerville. After it was unanimously passed, the representatives have been in the process of figuring out how the goals of reaching equity and addressing devastation wrought by the pandemic will be implemented. The legislation, according to Strezo, is calling for a complete system of change and a reevaluation of how women, particularly women of color, have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus.
“The industries hit hardest by the pandemic shutdown were women-majority industries: the retail industry, the hospitality industry, and the restaurant industry,” said Strezo. “The question remains, how are we going to support everybody getting out of this? When I saw that all of the unemployment claims in January of 2021 were filed by women, I could not understand how anybody could not want to respond to that.” She added, “I figured that we needed to make some concrete steps here in Somerville—what can we do municipally to try to help our community, because we have a problem. We know that women of color have been hit hardest, and that is unacceptable.”
According to the resolution, the shutdown has disenfranchised women in the workplace and has directly affected the economic progress of Somerville women. Women predominantly work in fields that emphasize care, employed in teaching, childcare, elder care, and as home aides. Industries hit hardest by the virus, such as retail, hospitality, and restaurants, are often staffed predominantly by Black and Latina women and have reported tremendous job losses since March 2020. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 8.4% of Black women and 9.1% of Latina women have experienced job loss rates higher than their white female peers at 5.7%. Furthermore, women often bear the burden of childcare, with women 25-44 citing childcare demands as their reason for not being able to work, as reported by the US Census Bureau.
The pandemic has exacerbated inequities in the workforce, and Strezo said that the city must not go back to the conditions from before the virus hit, when women were underpaid and unsupported. Instead, she is hoping that Somerville will advance to a new normal.
“My goal is three pronged,” said Strezo. … “One is economic development. [We need] better job support and mentoring opportunities, creating more economic development support within the City’s economic development department. The second was to combat racism and fight for equity. The third is to acknowledge that childcare is an intense factor in the economic recovery. For generations, our society has ignored the fact that workers have families and have placed the burden of childcare onto the families. We also know that women have cut back on work at three times their male counterparts.”
Ballantyne wrote in an email that having a state of emergency will empower the administration to act. The resolution also shows the unanimous support of the City Council and to some extent, Somerville residents. The reason why Ballantyne decided to co-sponsor the resolution is she recognized a need in the Somerville community. She explained that 50% of the Somerville population are women, with nearly 20% having no partner present. The harm of the coronavirus is worse for women, she stated, because the types of jobs held by women have been more frequently lost during the pandemic. Ballantyne outlined the several steps that the resolution is calling for.
“The Economic Development Department should notify women owned businesses in Somerville about available resources,” wrote Ballantyne. “The Health and Human Services Department and School Administration should contact families in Somerville, to provide and notify them of free childcare services, including for pre-K aged children. [We should also] provide information and mentorship to help women find available resources.”
In the next few days, Strezo will be working with the new director of racial and social justice, Denise Molina Capers. She will also be speaking with the Job Retention Trust Fund and has been in communication with worker organizations. The resolution lays out a number of steps that must be taken to advance towards equity, including conducting a study of Somerville women to determine what kind of assistance is needed. It also calls for a targeting of small business support towards women and women-owned businesses, as well as an accelerating of hospitable working environments for female employees, free from discrimination. The legislation urges the mayor and the administration to staff the Economic Development Division with a new position to address the “dire career need affecting Somerville women.”
“The goal is very much to move forward with this as soon as we can,” said Strezo. “The goal is reconstruction and support out of the collective trauma.”
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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.