Women are bearing the brunt of this crisis.
By Shaunna Thomas, UltraViolet Co-Founder and Executive Director
Congress passed the largest stimulus bill in US history last week but they aren’t done. The House and Senate took a first step in passing legislation that would provide urgent, much-needed funding to small businesses, hospitals, and state governments, including expanding unemployment insurance. But Senate Republicans chose to prioritize the needs of corporations over people, and the people who will suffer most from that dangerous decision are women, particularly women of color, who are the essential workers on the front lines of this crisis.
Women are the vast majority of frontline workers most at risk: 75% of hospital workers, 93% of child care workers, 90% of helpers in private homes, 2/3 of grocery cashiers are women, and disproportionately women of color.
The fact that corporations and the financial sector were prioritized over the people who we are calling “essential”, because they are, is criminal. That is a feature not a bug of our economy and politics. We know that women are already expected to do unpaid care work in our society and that will only be heightened during this crisis. Care work has been either unpaid or underpaid in this country even though the work has always been essential, and it’s time we value it as such. In fact, women’s unpaid labor last year was worth over $1.5 trillion. As we work to address this pandemic and then rebuild our economy, we can’t continue the inequitable structures of our past. What we know from other global health crises is that it won’t be gender neutral in its impact and solutions must take gender into account.
Women are in the sectors being decimated by this crisis — child care, retail, restaurants and more. We’re also bearing the brunt of caregiving and domestic work at home, as our families shelter in place. And let’s not forget that we make less money than men to begin with — making it much harder to bear the brunt of a recession.
Women who are homeless, LGBTQ, immigrants, survivors of domestic violence or have a disability will struggle even more in a crisis like this. These are the facts that a fourth stimulus bill needs to address. Congress is not and can not be done. The people — the forever essential women — who are on the frontlines need full protections now.
Democratic leadership has said they need another bill and a strategy for bringing Republicans to the table. That isn’t going to happen overnight, which is unfortunate because the people on the frontlines needed relief yesterday.
The major immediate term solutions are squarely in Trump’s hands - not the governors, not the corporations. There are things Trump needs to do now, as the person with the most power in this moment to protect the most people from immediate harm. The first is to defer to the medical experts and stop spreading dangerous medical disinformation that is leading to more people getting sick and dying. He needs to invoke the Defense Production Act - not to bully corporations and Governors and pass the blame - but to take responsibility to ensure every available resource is being mobilized to ensure things like masks, ventilators and gloves are getting to every hospital and every state as soon as possible.
Congress must do the rest. The list is evolving but these are some things the most vulnerable people in this country need right now:
- Paid sick time and paid family and medical leave to protect ourselves and our families — no exceptions
- Ensure state and local governments have the tools to provide health coverage, continue to provide education, protect elections, continue essential services, and prevent layoffs.
- Eliminating barriers to reproductive health care which is always essential healthcare, and especially during a pandemic.
At UltraViolet, we’re collaborating in real time with women’s policy experts and advocacy partners and we will fight for more, with them, at every step for the emergency needs and the permanent, structural changes we have needed for a long time. This week, progressive groups focused on policy and power-building for women and LGBTQ people released a letter to Congress about the solutions we need them to pursue. As we say in the letter, “In times of crisis and in the face of great adversity, leaders must make a choice. To rise to the challenge, or shrink away from responsibility. To leave no one behind, or settle for good enough. To do no harm, or deepen divides and further inequities.” That is the charge of this administration and Congress for the sake of all people and the future of our democracy.