“ There is a lot of work to do ”
- Tennis great Venus Williams joins a growing list of celebrities who are working to raise awareness and promote healthier, safer and more secure indoor spaces as we begin to come together indoors again.
- A long-time advocate for equality on a wide range of issues, Williams said the accounts we’ve seen on gender and race inequalities, discrimination and social justice over the past year are conversations we all need to be having right now.
- Williams is also raising her voice to emphasize the need for positive action and for people to find ways to work within their community to have a positive impact that goes beyond just talking about issues.
Like many of us, when tennis greatsword Venus Williams looks back on the past year, she says the COVID-19 pandemic has made her “live one day at a time.”
“It was one of those times when you realize you can’t control everything, so you have to be able to adjust to life and after that moment not take anything for granted,” Williams told Healthline. “It’s those simple things that you take for granted, like not being able to see your family.”
For Williams, winner of seven Grand Slam titles, it was particularly painful. She lives next to her mother – who is only a “15 second walk” away – but has not been able to see her physically for weeks.
These abrupt changes in the way we live, where we can go, and our sense of safety and security have been on Williams’ mind as the United States begins to gradually move into a new stage of the pandemic, with vaccinations allowing more people. to facilitate returning to in-person meetings, such as sporting events.
Williams recently joined the likes of Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Michael B. Jordan in a partnership with the WELL International Building Institute and his WELL Health and Safety Assessment in a campaign to promote healthier, safer and more secure indoor spaces as we begin to come together indoors again.
The five-time Wimbledon champion and four-time Olympic gold medalist told Healthline that the way we interact with our spaces isn’t the only societal change on her mind as we face a changing world in the world. wake of the pandemic.
Longtime advocate for gender equality, Williams said the accounts we’ve seen on gender and race inequalities, discrimination and social justice over the past year are conversations we need to do. all have right now.
In March, Williams wrote an essay for British Vogue on how she is using her massive platform to tackle global wage inequality. It is a problem that affects close to home.
After decades of Billie Jean King advocating for equal pay for male and female players, it wasn’t until 2007 that Williams won the same award as her male counterparts – becoming the first female to history to achieve this goal.
Williams’ great serve has resonated across tennis and the world of professional sports in general, but is relevant today in the face of inequalities both exposed and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For starters, women in the United States earned just 82 cents for every dollar a man earned in 2019, according to the Census office. Before the pandemic, the World Economic Forum predicted that it would take 257 years to close the gender pay gap around the world.
All of this has been made worse by the pandemic. Industries that have been particularly hard hit by the global health crisis – healthcare, education and retail – start out with severe pay inequalities, according to the Commerce Department.
The way the pandemic has specifically affected these industries may have a domino effect on the health and well-being of employees in general.
Low wages can affect the quality of life, access to health care, and payment of rent and food – making life difficult for those already vulnerable in our society.
Many people particularly affected by the pandemic are people of color, with COVID-19 particularly affecting black Americans.
“The pandemic has certainly made the problem more intense and it is so important that people know about the issues women face – we have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and women are taking on many roles at home, being forced to quit their job. , take fewer hours to make sure things around the house are taken care of, ”Williams said.
“For example, women work a lot in the hotel industry, which has been extremely affected by the pandemic,” Williams added. “So much has happened this year and a lot of education needs to be done. We must all be part of the solution, men and women. ”
When asked exactly how the pandemic has exacerbated these types of systemic inequities, Jamila Taylor, PhD, director of healthcare reform and senior researcher at the Century Foundation, told Healthline that it is essential that any conversation about these issues discuss how the coronavirus affects people of color and people living with in low-income households.
“Even for those who might want to ignore it, it’s hard to look away from the reports after reports of mile-long queues in pantries, high levels of job loss and families struggling with a lack of child care, not to mention a health care system that was ill-equipped before the pandemic to handle the countless cases and deaths from COVID-19, ”said Taylor, who is not affiliated with any Williams awareness campaigns or initiatives.
Taylor echoed Williams when she said that many women – especially women of color – severely affected by wage inequality found themselves in an almost impossible situation last year, having to protect their health while overcoming the challenges. challenges posed by these economic inequalities.
“Women of color are the most likely to work in low-wage frontline jobs that make them vulnerable to COVID-19. These jobs also lack worker protection and paid time off, ”Taylor explained. “Women of color, especially black and Hispanic women, are also the most likely to be the breadwinners in the family. They cannot afford to get sick and be out of work because they take responsibility for taking care of their families. “
Williams said that while none of these issues were resolved during the pandemic, it has forced us all to have difficult and necessary conversations.
She said these conversations are essential if we are to create a more just society and meet the needs of groups like black women who have often been under-recognized, targeted by systemic racism and misogyny, and sometimes completely ignored.
“I think last year we saw [that] we started having a lot of conversations that just weren’t there before, and if we don’t talk about it, if we don’t act on it, then nothing gets done, ”said Williams.
She started her own #PrivilegeTax movement to raise funds for Girls Inc.
“I’m excited to start this conversation to work to donate to organizations like Girls Inc. that work with girls in greater Los Angeles, Compton. [California] where I’m from, ”she said. “This is how African Americans, minorities and people who have been marginalized in the past have this opportunity to be heard and have this equal opportunity to be their best.
While all of these conversations are going on, is enough being done?
Taylor, who works to build on and improve the Affordable Care Act (ACA) so the United States can achieve better, high-quality, affordable and universal health care coverage, said that there had been “progress in expanding health care coverage”, for example under the Biden administration.
Better and more accessible health care is certainly essential for building a more equitable society and filling some of these societal gaps.
Taylor cited the reopening of the ACA market to people who lost medical coverage during the pandemic and the American Rescue Plan Act, which included expanded ACA premium tax credits and continued efforts to expand Medicaid, such as positive signs of change in recent months.
“In recent weeks, the CDC has even declared racism a serious threat to public health. These are all steps in the right direction. I hope to see a more feasible whole-of-government approach to addressing the pervasiveness of racism in the American health care system, ”Taylor said.
“This will be necessary if America is ever to put in place an unequal system and the vast racial disparities in health that result from it,” she explained.
In her essay for British Vogue, Williams wrote: “None of these things are possible without men being part of the solution. Sexism is no more a women’s problem than racism is a black problem. Men need to understand that gender equality is about equal opportunities for women rather than for men who give up power. “
When asked if enough men – and those who enjoy the privileges of our society – are engaging in gender equality, Williams said she thinks they do, but they “ did not always follow these conversations ”.
She said a prime example is Women’s History Month, which takes place every March, but in April “nobody talks about it.”
Williams said it’s critical that we all engage productively. So much has happened in the past year that it’s easy to get angry, but she said “doesn’t feel right”.
“In order to let go of this anger, you just have to lead with love… and also be part of the solution,” Williams said. “So instead of someone who’s angry who might post a meme every now and then, go ahead and do something in the community, be part of the solution.”
Williams said she believes the key to raising awareness and bringing about real change comes from promoting ongoing conversations that involve everyone and encourage them to “be a part of this solution.”
She said that means going beyond getting involved on International Women’s Day in March or a specific outreach initiative for a brief moment. Instead, Williams said it should be a “year round” level of engagement.
“This conversation is not over. It’s something that I have experienced personally in my own life and experience, so I know what it feels like, ”said Williams. “No one should have to go through this, and there’s a lot of work to be done, and I’m passionate about it.”