The U.S. Constitution, as amended and interpreted over the past 230 years, promises equal rights for all citizens, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, even as battles continue today over civil and economic rights for marginalized groups.
Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed with new clarity the persisting divide that has left women — and particularly women of color — more vulnerable to disease, death, and economic turmoil.
For example, Black and Hispanic Americans are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than White Americans and at least twice as likely to test positive. Racial disparities for all causes of death considered together have persisted for years, with a nationwide mortality rate for Black Americans exceeding White Americans by 24 percent between 2016 and 2018.
In December, women accounted for 86 percent of the 227,000 jobs lost in the U.S. economy. A study conducted by Altarum found that from January to October 2020, men recovered 79 percent of the health care jobs they had lost during the first months of the pandemic, while only 62 percent of female health care providers returned to the workforce. For all types of employment, women have lost 5.4 million jobs since the pandemic began, compared with 4.4 million jobs lost by men. Of these women, the overwhelming majority are women of color.
We have much work to do if we are to overcome these losses, reduce the outsized harms facing women, and achieve the promises of equality that have marked our country’s fitful progress toward a more perfect union.
Equality does not mean a lack of differences among people. In fact, acknowledging our differences facilitates our capacity to achieve advances, particularly those needed in relation to health and the consequences of disease.
Toward this end, Women’s Health Research at Yale makes sure science fully considers the health of women and sex-and-gender differences in health so that everyone can benefit from medical discoveries. With our partners at Elevate, we are developing the data-based interventions needed to deliver change into communities that struggle with achieving equity in health and health care.
WHRY has focused on COVID-19, exemplified by a groundbreaking study on different immune responses in women and men as well as research on what we can learn to bolster the psychological resilience of the predominantly female COVID-19 frontline health care workforce. WHRY is also boosting efforts to address other urgent health needs, such as the ongoing opioid pandemic and its attendant higher rate of opioid prescriptions given to women, as well as the explosion of poorly understood and mostly unregulated cannabis-based CBD products taken mostly by women.
Biological, behavioral, and socioeconomic differences among and between groups of people are real, and they need not represent a value judgement. Achieving equality means making science better so it does not dismiss these differences but instead explores them to make sure everyone can live a healthier and more fulfilling life.