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U.S. Women Even Farther Away from Reaching Gender Equality and Their Full Potential After COVID-19

March 8, 2021
By Catherine Reynolds

New global data from UN Women suggests that the coronavirus pandemic could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality. The research reveals that employment and education opportunities could be lost, and women may suffer from worse mental and physical health because of it. In the month of September 2020 alone, it is estimated that in the U.S., 865,000 women dropped out of the labor force compared to 200,000 men, and women and girls are bearing the heaviest burden of home care and family care.

Furthermore, women impacted by domestic violence has been called a Pandemic within a Pandemic by the New England Journal of Medicine. Recent research has shown that domestic violence has increased by 8.1% since pandemic lockdowns started. Many feel that this increase is understated.

According to data from FleishmanHillard’s TRUE Global Intelligence 2021 Health Checkup Survey — U.S. Women’s Perspectives on Health Issues, Inequities and Well-Being, half of American women have felt limited due to their gender at least once in their lives — with an average of seven times in their lifetime. This number increases to nine times for Black, Hispanic and Asian women. Only one out of four women feel very optimistic (24%) that U.S. women will achieve gender equality in the next four years.

Survey respondents reported the most critical challenge that prevents women from reaching their full potential in the U.S. is not being heard and lack of respect, recognition and encouragement from men, society, family/friends or professional peers (43%). More than 20% of women also cite culture and government not ensuring that all women are protected from physical harm (24%) and policies that prevent having sexual and reproductive choices (21%) as other challenges that prevent them from reaching their full potential.

COVID-19 has added additional challenges for U.S. women, their health and well-being. The majority of women say that access to quality and affordable healthcare (94%), creating measures to stop violence against women (90%), and ensuring that all Americans have enough food (90%) are the most important issues facing women in the U.S. today.

There is also a significant need for professional help for women living with mental health conditions in the U.S. While nearly one-third of women (31%) in 2020 received professional help for a mental health condition (such as depression, anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, etc.), a quarter of women (26%) were not able to receive help for a mental health condition but felt that they needed it. Cost (36%), lack of time (27%) and lack of insurance (25%) were most often cited as barriers to accessing mental health support. Other key barriers were the perceived stigma associated with seeking treatment (23%) and difficulty finding a mental health professional that could meet virtually (22%).

Solutions are as challenging as the issues and barriers that U.S. women face. According to the survey, American women believe that it is the government’s responsibility to create measures to stop violence against women, provide access to affordable healthcare and ensure that all Americans have housing and enough food. Women also expect pharmaceutical companies to take responsibility and reduce the costs of prescription drugs and health insurance companies to provide access to mental health services. It is these same institutions that the research shows that women are least likely to trust to do what is right — companies as employers (40%), pharmaceutical companies (37%) and the federal government (28%).

Research suggests that if we show respect, we will teach respect. This means we respect our children, we respect other adults and we respect women. Perhaps the real and sustainable solution lies in individual people changing their own behavior to create change instead of following the culture and the institutions that no longer support women in society.