by Coco Arcand
Councilor-at-Large Kristen Strezo wrote and introduced a resolution to the Somerville City Council calling for a State of Emergency for women to be declared in Somerville on Feb. 25. The resolution, which was co-sponsored by Ward 7 Councilor Katjana Ballantyne and unanimously approved by the City Council as a whole, raised concerns about how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women’s opportunities in the workplace and has undone some of the progress made by women in professional fields over the last few decades.
In the resolution, Strezo outlined specific statistics about how the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the place of women in the workforce, specifically women of color.
“Women in the U.S. accounted for 100% of the job loss claims in the United States in December 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with Black, Asian and Latina women accounting for all the jobs lost that month," Strezo wrote. “The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January of 2021 that 8.4% of Black women and 9.1% of Latina women have experienced job loss rates significantly higher than their White female peers at 5.7%.”
These statistics are what ultimately drove Strezo to write this resolution, as she felt the issue of women’s economic status during the pandemic was an issue that she had to use her position in public office to help tackle.
“I saw … consistent research saying that women are being really devastatingly hit, and [specifically] women of color are being devastatingly hit," Strezo said in an interview with the Daily. "We have to take action ... I can't see these numbers and not feel prompted to take action in some way."
However, this resolution is not Strezo’s first attempt to help women in Somerville. She described that this resolution was a natural progression of her past efforts to ensure equality for all genders.
“Women's issues and families have always been a focus of mine. Previous to this [resolution] I was the co-chair of the Somerville Commission for Women, so I have been working for many, many years within Somerville to really even the playing ground and create equity within our community," Strezo said. "[This resolution] is just the next step of that.”
The resolution notes that caretaking, for both children and/or sick family members, is one reason why women have faced increased unemployment and economic troubles during the pandemic.
"In 2020 during the shutdown of schools, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that women ages 25–44 cited childcare demands as their reason for not being able to work, almost three times as often as men," Strezo wrote in the resolution.
The resolution has received support from Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, who explained why he believes the responsibility of caretaking fell on women during this time.
“Historically, care-taking work has fallen to women, and there are many systemic reasons why that pattern is hard to break,” Curtatone wrote in an email to the Daily. “Taking steps like supporting women who temporarily leave their jobs to care for someone else is one way to help break down impacts of this system. But addressing underlying factors like pay inequity, entrenched stereotypes, and comprehensive healthcare access, among other steps, are critical for deeper societal change.”
The resolution calls for concrete policies to help women economically recover and support them as they begin to reenter the workforce. These steps include supporting women-owned small businesses, helping to create hospitable work environments for women and specifically tackling the institutional racism that affects women of color in the workplace and beyond.
Strezo also explained a need for increased affordable childcare services.
“We know that childcare needs are so dramatically needed, and yet so underserviced," Strenzo said. "We created a system where we ignore that some of our workers have families … We have an insurmountable number of families in our city that are intergenerational caregivers caring for a sick relative or an elderly parent, and they have to step back from their careers to help do that, and we know from all the stats that they are predominantly women that do that, although we have plenty of men and non-binary residents as well [who take on those responsibilities].”
Strezo discussed the next steps, now that the resolution has been introduced, approved and received support.
"I'm in conversations with the administration on the next steps of this, because the resolution calls for concrete action steps," Strezo said. "And I'm excited about how this can hopefully positively very much affect Somerville."
Strezo emphasized that this is an issue that should not just pertain to women, but rather to the Somerville population as a whole. In the resolution, she included a statistic reported by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, which found that the primary driver of U.S. economic expansion from 2015 to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic shutdown was women-boosted workplace participation.
Strezo underscored that there should be an increased focus on the struggles women face in the community.
“Women are facing almost three decades worth of job loss … within less than a year," Strezo said. "How can anyone hear that statistic and not want to respond? It's 50% of our city, it's 50% of our population, how do you ignore 50% of the population?"
Photo by Nicole Garay / The Tufts Daily