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The writer is executive director of the Women’s Fund of Omaha.

The pandemic has shined a harsh light on dramatic inequities in our community impacting women and girls. COVID-19 has not created these issues but exacerbated what has long been broken. Women and girls, especially women of color who already experience gaps in income and suffer from health disparities, will be devastated by the economic and social costs of this pandemic for years to come.

We must take this opportunity to put equity at the center of all efforts to build a better future, because doing so will uplift entire communities.

Women are on the front lines of this pandemic. They are working in essential jobs such as health care workers, janitors, child care and home care workers, shelter advocates, grocery store cashiers and delivery service people. They are also overrepresented in the many sectors — including hospitality, restaurants and other service sectors — that have seen massive job losses. Since March, women lost nearly six out of every 10 jobs nationally.

At home, women shoulder the majority of caregiving responsibilities for kids and aging parents. They are piecing together child care for children whose schools or day cares have closed and adding “school” to their daily to-do list, all while keeping up with the responsibilities of their jobs, if they still have one. Also, social distancing and the high-stress environment exacerbated by the pandemic increases domestic violence. The isolation that protects community health makes it difficult for women to leave an abusive partner and to obtain support from family, friends, local service providers and law enforcement.

The Women’s Fund stands ready to work with policymakers, community leaders, direct service providers and those most impacted by this crisis. In the short term, we are calling for paid leave for all workers — to stop the spread of the disease but also to care for loved ones. We are advocating for help for families to make housing and utility payments and extended grace periods for unpaid bills. We are supporting a robust response to domestic and sexual violence. And we will be working to ensure common-sense investments in programs that support struggling families — like unemployment insurance, food assistance, child care supports and the health care safety net.

Rather than rushing to rebuild the status quo of inequality, we need to build bridges to a better future. We must do better for all Nebraskans — by increasing economic mobility through education, by creating programs that support women who are working their way to economic stability, by implementing workplace policies that respect the role of women as committed employees and primary caregivers, and by paying women equally for equal work.

This crisis, and the subsequent infusion of $1 billion in federal dollars into our state to respond to this pandemic, has created an enormous opportunity for policy change and investments that lead us beyond recovery to a new “normal” that prioritizes economic opportunity and stability, equity, inclusion, safety, health and thriving families and communities. Because when we invest in women and girls, the whole community benefits. These are the types of investments we’ve been making for 30 years, and it works.

It is critical that the needs and intersectional voices of those most impacted are included in all levels of decision-making around this recovery. The Women’s Fund will continue to center the needs of all women and girls, and we have outlined our advocacy priorities on our website (www.OmahaWomensFund.org). We are eager to work with those who share our vision of not being satisfied with a return to normal but for building a better future for all Nebraskans.

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