The Women We Forgot
She is in her late 20s and a single mom to an autistic child. She’s on a Zoom call with me and a few other women, and the call is being hijacked by her kid. He is running around screaming, and she alternates between going to get him as he runs away and holding him while trying to calm him down. We can’t hear each other over her kid’s screams and whimpers.
This is him on a normal day, she tells us. This isn’t one of his major tantrums.
He has been out of school for weeks now due to the Corona shut-down of the educational system. She tells us that he has been having three “rage attacks” every day but that when he is in school, he only has one every two months.
During these attacks, he bites her, he hits himself, he breaks things. She tells us that he is having trouble being outside of his routine, and that is why he is having so many attacks. She’s really worried about him, she says. He might hurt himself.
He does hurt her, leaving bites and bruises, but she seems unconcerned by that. She isn’t a professional, she tells us. With no tools to really help him, all she can do is hold him tight, employ a few tricks his teachers have taught her, and wait for it to pass.
The government is attempting to make things easier for parents like her. They are allowing specialists to come to private sessions and to work with children with disabilities during the day. But there is no way she can pay for that. Even without all of the uncertainty surrounding employment, she could never pay for someone to come watch her son. Even a few hours a week would mean not being able to pay her electricity bills.
She tells us that there are plans to begin opening special education schools part time for small groups. Only they won’t be sending the normal busses to pick kids up. Every parent will be responsible for getting their kid to school, but she has no idea how to do that. Once again, she has no way to pay for even the meager solution the government is offering her.
I met this single mom through an organization that works to help young women. The same organization puts together a zoom call for us with a lawyer so that she can answer any questions those of us who have been furloughed may have. My questions are simple and the lawyer’s answers helpful.
The other women’s questions are heartbreaking, and to those her answer is generally the same. “I’m sorry, there isn’t currently a solution for that.” Sometimes she alternates with “sorry, that’s just the way it is.”
I can tell she wants to help, but the questions, and her lack of answers are rattling her. They are rattling me. Questions like “I am under 20, and so don’t qualify for unemployment, but I’m on furlough. How do I pay my bills?” “I already used the unemployment I was entitled to earlier this year, and they are saying I am not qualified for anymore. What can I do?”
The lawyer and the group moderators don’t know what to say.
Later, in the organization’s group chat, we discuss the latest development. Boarding schools are being shut down, sending kids home to parents who are not equipped to take care of them. In some cases, kids are being sent home to domestic violence.
A week after, women’s mental health wards are closed. Lord knows where the women who need these frameworks end up.
A few weeks later, shelters for abused women are almost at full capacity as cases of abuse and violence increase and women can’t leave shelters due to lockdown policy.
And now, suddenly, jarringly, we are on our way back to “normal life.” Services are reopening. Maybe some jobs are coming back. For the six women killed during quarantine it is too late. I wonder who else it is too late for.
The guidelines and welfare measures should have been written with domestic violence in mind. We should have had solutions set up to combat the predictable explosion of cases of abuse. The welfare measures should have been designed for families living in poverty, young people forced to support themselves, and for single mothers. How could we fail to anticipate that these populations would be hit harder than anyone?
The guidelines that have controlled our lives so exactingly and the welfare measures meant to help us seem to have been written with those who needed them least in mind. We forgot about those who needed their protection most.