In these times of the COVID-19 threat, when days in thousands of Puerto Rican homes become endless, working mothers take on various responsibilities. Many of those women are alone in the fight for the well-being of their families.
The need to protect their children's health -now more than ever- and concerns about ensuring food, education, and a safe roof joins the challenge of meeting employment demands, and many of them work outside their homes.
This line includes doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who play critical roles in ensuring the recovery of patients with coronavirus. Law enforcement officers and other workers who are required to work in public places also join this list.
This legion of working mothers, who cannot take a break in these difficult times, also include businesswomen who fight every day to keep their businesses afloat or suffer the lockout imposed as a health measure. Maintenance workers and those in the retail industry, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, are also part of the army of women who help keep the island running, within the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.
Many of them are heads of households and they carry the responsibility of supporting their families. Some lost their jobs after the 2017 hurricanes. Others have been left out of the workforce due to the economic paralysis stemming from the COVID-19.
Many mothers have suffered from government deficiencies in the distribution of aid such as the Nutrition Assistance Program, unemployment insurance, and state and federal relief. A significant number of these women lack the technological resources to apply for government support, which reflects they belong to that sector of the population where six out of ten children live under the poverty level.
In some cases, their homes become space for domestic violence. Social distancing measures that force them and their children to stay in the same place with their aggressor increase the probability of being physically and/or emotionally abused.
Mothers are tireless fighters with a variety of responsibilities in their homes or at work in the fields of service, manufacturing, public administration, and commerce. Unfortunately, they suffer inequality in salary and development opportunities.
In 2010, 44 percent of the workforce in Puerto Rico was made up of women. But as of 2018, their participation dropped to 32.2 percent. The Department of Labor and Human Resources estimated that 37,000 women would have joined the ranks of the unemployed that year. Today that number would have increased due to the impact of the virus on the economy.
Despite the difficult conditions that mark the daily lives of many Puerto Rican mothers, their creativity and willingness to fight is a strong factor. And this includes women who adopt children or raise relatives, as well as those who take care of sick family members.
Other women have taken the lead in volunteer groups in their communities that make and deliver meals to the elderly and vulnerable people.
When young children or other family members express fears of the virus and its risks, many mothers put their own concerns on hold, trying to ensure that calm prevails over uncertainty.
In these present days that surprised us with a pandemic, mothers are especially important. It is fair to show them love, respect, and gratitude with sincere, virtual messages if we cannot share the day with them. And beyond the 24 hours that tradition marks as Mother's Day, it will be necessary to build a more equitable and safe Puerto Rico for all women.