Orlando opinion: COVID-19 is also a women's issue

'Women and Children First'
'Women and Children First' illustration by Clay Jones

To our elected officials:

Being a woman in America, under normal circumstances, means that we have to juggle childbearing, rearing, unequal share of household chores, and probably a job or career, with terrible maternity leave or childcare benefits. Many of us take on the role of caregivers to elderly parents as well.

Being a woman in America during a pandemic means that we have to choose to give up a career (or any resemblance of a balanced life) if we want to maintain safety for our children. Or we have to make the hard decision to send our children off to school or daycare, knowing full well that they will get sick.

And being a woman in Florida during a pandemic means that we cannot even look to all of our schools to implement the best safety practices possible during the worst of a pandemic. Instead, we are at the mercy of elected officials who are fighting to take decision-making power from school boards and businesses when it comes to implementing safety practices based on science. We are increasingly being forced to decide between safety and education for our children, or career and livelihoods for ourselves.

As a wife, mom, sister, daughter and all the other roles I play as a woman in Florida, I am exhausted by the blatant disregard of safety during an unprecedented time such as this.

While everyone is having hypothetical debates and riveting discussions, there are more patients in the ICU than ever before, the city of Orlando had to ask us to conserve water because they are running low on oxygen, there are more pediatric cases than ever before, and thousands of students have been sent home to quarantine because of outbreaks. And none of these reasons are good enough to encourage school districts to implement safety measures? Instead, we fine businesses for asking for vaccine information? Instead, we rally up parents so that they can fight a mask mandate? I am tired.

click to enlarge Krizia Capeles Evans
Krizia Capeles Evans

Rather than this being a time where the community comes together to try to be the safest place for all, we have politicians who make safety measures a debate. This lack of concern for safety puts every woman with a child in a position of less choices.

To every woman and girl who has a dream for their future, and the future of their children: Make your voice heard. Keep shining your light on this issue. Many women before us shined their light for the right to vote, reproductive freedom, a chance for a seat at the table, the list goes on. We still have a light worth shining to ensure our sisters, daughters, wives and friends have the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

Being a woman in America should mean we have freedom to make choices. Freedom to choose is only possible when we have access to safe, affordable childcare options; when a woman's seat at the table is just as important as a man's; when our politicians finally figure out that it is actually worth considering how the pandemic affects women and children.

Elected officials, here is what this woman is asking of you:

First, advocate for the prevention of COVID-19, including mask-wearing (especially during spikes of the virus), and give institutions and businesses the authority to institute safety measures that they feel will be best for all.

Second, incentivize schools who have low outbreaks, in part due to their safety measures. Let's reward, not punish, institutions who have been able to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Third, advocate for policies that help women re-enter the workforce, such as paid leave policies, paid maternity leave and return-to-work incentive programs.

Let's all stand up and shine a light on how the pandemic is really affecting women and children. Help women all over the country have the choice to re-enter the workforce and send their kids to safe institutions.

Krizia Capeles Evans is the founder and executive director of From Outside In, an Orlando nonprofit providing free clothing to needy children.

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