BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield closed out Women’s History Month by discussing how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected women and the work they do in a meeting on March 31. Hosted by the Township Council and the Bloomfield Commission on Civil Rights, and moderated by Councilwoman Jenny Mundell, the panel addressed the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had on the female workforce.
Councilwoman Sarah Cruz first asked the meeting’s attendees how many hats they wear, another way of describing their various responsibilities.
“I was able to see my hat wardrobe in a different way,” Cruz said about the pandemic. “There’s hats I knew I had and I wear on a regular basis, and then there’s hats I didn’t know I had and had to pull out. There’s hats I wanted to chuck out a window, some I borrowed from friends, and some new ones that I actually went out and purchased. I think what’s really cool is that, as a species, we have the ability to wear them all at once and stack them up. Sometimes it’s stressful and hard, but we can choose to take off a hat. Just getting through this pandemic, it’s been really inspirational to see other people continuing on, changing their hats and helping each other.”
Natascia Boeri, an assistant sociology professor at Bloomfield College, spoke at the meeting about care work — child care, cooking, housework, and looking after people who are sick, disabled or elderly.
“We’re in a crisis of care,” Boeri said. “We have systemic inequities across gender, but also class and race, especially when we’re considering paid care providers. So many of them are women of color and immigrants. This has long been the case before the pandemic, but the pandemic has made it so absolutely clear that we are in a crisis.”
There are not many policies designed to protect people who do care work, according to Boeri. The only parental leave program in the United States is the Family and Medical Leave Act, which offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Not everyone qualifies for parental leave.
“Some states have mandated paid parental leave, such as New Jersey, which is great. But the U.S. is really behind on this issue,” Boeri said, adding that the United States is among a small number of countries that do not have some form of national paid parental leave.
Marieangelic Martinez, the owner of Martinez Martial Arts and Family Fitness Center in Bloomfield, spoke at the meeting about how her own roles have changed over the last year.
“Women culturally and traditionally are the ones who are most likely to stay home with children,” Martinez said. “Being self-employed, in the beginning it was frustrating to change the routine that we knew so well. We really had to shift, because we had to close.”
Diane Hill, who lives in Bloomfield and works at Rutgers University–Newark as assistant chancellor for university–community partnerships, was also on the panel and talked about the disparities that existed long before the pandemic but were forced into the spotlight as COVID-19 took hold last year, such as the number of people who work multiple jobs in addition to family responsibilities.
“We really realized that there were more of those that were women, that were carrying two and three jobs, taking care of children at home; they were also taking care of family members and living in households where, if COVID hit, it would hit the whole family,” Hill said. “Things probably didn’t change as far as knowing what our commitments were, but what did change is, we got a reality check in how we understand that we need to start operating differently.”
Health care workers were affected immediately by the pandemic, according to Sheana Ditri, who works for RWJBarnabas Health as an assistant director in the Employee Assistance Program. Ditri counsels health care workers on their mental health. She talked about the blurred line between work life and home life, especially as many people were forced to work from home during the pandemic.
“Work bleeds into our personal life and there’s not enough time for recovery, where sometimes we would be able to leave work at the office and come home and be with our families,” Ditri said. “That would give us the time to renew ourselves and recover. With working from home, there’s no time frame. It’s like time doesn’t exist.”
She also stressed the importance of saying no.
“The biggest part of resetting our boundaries is being able to say no,” Ditri said. “Especially as women we want to say yes, we want to take on everything, because we can do everything. We’re very strong that way. But being able to say no is a major reset to our boundaries.”
The panel was an hour long; it is still available for viewing on the town’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bloomfieldtwpnj.