Dear Senator/Representative and Members of the Biden-Harris Transition Team:
Women, especially Black, Indigenous, Latina, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women, are on the front lines of responding to COVID-19 – as health care workers, child care providers, grocery clerks and other essential workers sustaining us through this pandemic. And yet, women are shouldering the brunt of the pain from our nation’s inadequate response. During this crisis, we are more likely to lose our jobs and more likely to be pushed out of the labor force altogether.
As a result, women come home to empty pantries, and they struggle to pay their rent or mortgage and other bills that come due every month, and their health care needs remain unmet. At the same time, women are taking on the lion’s share of unpaid caregiving, with many of our children more disconnected than ever from a school community, many child care centers still closed or operating at lower capacity—and many at the brink of closure, and fears that nursing homes are not safe places for their loved ones. While women and girls, disproportionately Black, Indigenous, and Latinx, are the first to lose their schooling and jobs when a crisis starts, they will be the last to return—if ever— to school or income-generating opportunities when the crisis abates.
The fact that women of color experience greater gaps in income and wealth, are more likely to work in poorly-paid jobs, and already suffer health inequities means that women of color and their families face greater risk of economic distress, unemployment, and poor health outcomes. For example, Black women are nearly twice as likely as white men to say that they have either been laid off, furloughed, or had their hours and/or pay reduced because of the pandemic.1 According to the latest Jobs Report, 37% of unemployed women have been out of work for longer than six months, and for AAPI women, that number jumps to a startling 45%. While the virus doesn’t discriminate, its impacts reflect and amplify centuries of discrimination.
One thing is clear: while the recent relief that is being provided by Congress is an important measure to help struggling people, it is a fraction of what is needed. For instance, the recent relief provided by Congress did not provide adequate relief for child care providers, failed to extend funding for cash-strapped state and local communities, and did not extend the requirement for employers to provide emergency paid sick leave and paid family leave. A top legislative priority of the Biden-Harris administration must be a robust COVID relief package and a large stimulus bill that enables women and girls across the nation to not just survive the current pandemic, but to rebuild our dramatically weakened societal structures, communities, and economy and to be able to thrive on the other side.
The challenges facing women and families now are not new; the pandemic has simply highlighted and exacerbated inequities and systemic barriers that are the consequence of deeply embedded structural racism and sexism. But our country can no longer look away as women—especially Black women, Latina women, Indigenous women, Asian American and Pacific Islander women, and their families absorb the harm created by our social and economic systems.
2021 presents a critical opportunity to meet the needs and priorities of this country. To build back better, Congress and the next Administration can—and must—chart a new course toward racial and gender justice by centering the needs of women and girls of color. Centering the needs of women and girls of color is the only way forward to rectify centuries of intertwined structural racism and sexism, to ensure we can all thrive in a post-COVID reality.
Gender justice policies that address the needs of women and girls are essential to the prosperity of this country—including providing COVID relief; ending sexual harassment; ensuring access to high quality, affordable child care; closing the gender wage gap; protecting and expanding access to abortion; and providing access to low-cost, accessible health care to all. This memo identifies legislative and oversight priorities for the 117th Congress to advance gender and racial justice in 2021.