From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Hawaii Considers an Explicitly Feminist Plan for COVID-Era Economic Recovery
Date May 28, 2020 2:20 AM
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[The plan does not seek to reinstate a status quo riddled with
inequality. Instead it recognizes the current crisis as the “moment
to build a system that is capable of delivering gender equality.” ]
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HAWAII CONSIDERS AN EXPLICITLY FEMINIST PLAN FOR COVID-ERA ECONOMIC
RECOVERY   [[link removed]]

 

Mara Dolan
May 26, 2020
Truthout
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_ The plan does not seek to reinstate a status quo riddled with
inequality. Instead it recognizes the current crisis as the “moment
to build a system that is capable of delivering gender equality.” _

The plan recognizes the current crisis as the "moment to build a
system that is capable of delivering gender equality.", JARED
RODRIGUEZ / TRUTHOUT

 

"The road to economic recovery should not be across women’s
backs,” reads the first sentence of Hawaii’s Feminist Economic
Recovery Plan
[[link removed]].

As states put forth dozens of recovery plans that all aim to redress
the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaii’s
remains the first and only that is explicitly “feminist.”

The plan — which was released on April 14 by the Hawaii Department
of Human Services’ State Commission on the Status of Women — does
not seek to reinstate a status quo riddled with inequality. Instead it
recognizes the current crisis as the “moment to build a system that
is capable of delivering gender equality.”

It calls for a universal basic income, countering the systemic wage
and wealth gender gap. It calls for free, publicly provided child care
for essential workers, a nearly $25/hour minimum wage for single
mothers, and the creation of public emergency funds available for
high-risk groups, like undocumented women who are ineligible for the
federal cash refund, domestic workers who are experiencing financial
hardship, and people classified as “sex trafficking survivors who
have recently exited the commercial sex industry.”

 

The plan calls for a reinvestment in midwifery services to provide
maternal health care as hospitals become strained with pandemic
response. It calls for a 20 percent pro-rata share of the state’s
COVID-19-response funds to go immediately, no strings attached, to
Native Hawaiian communities. The 23-page document is a vision for a
new kind of economy while also conveying concrete policy
recommendations, delivered directly to Hawaii legislators as they
begin to apportion state funds toward recovery.

Khara Jabola-Carolus saw the writing on the wall early. Jabola-Carolus
works as the executive director of the State Commission on the Status
of Women, and by early March, had seen enough to know that this would
be a severely gendered crisis. Women, burdened with the vast amount of
unpaid care work, were most impacted by stay-at-home orders, child
care and school closures. Women quarantined in abusive homes with
their perpetrators had little to no access to financial and social
support systems. Women were performing the majority of essential,
high-risk health care positions and other essential care work
positions like teaching, but weren’t even receiving enough
protective equipment or livable wages. Any policy response that
ignored these gendered realities would only reinforce them.

Jabola-Carolus recalls the exact moment she knew she needed to push
for a feminist response. As the head of the Commission on the Status
of Women, she was asked by legislators working on the state budget to
provide a pro-woman plan to restructure and stimulate the economy —
in less than half a day. “I was given only a few hours to answer
these enormous questions and it made me damn angry. How could
executives and bureaucrats, so far removed from the edge and
illiterate in the struggles of women, define their future in a few
hours?”

She wanted to draft the recommendations in a very different way, one
that modeled a community-based consultative process that prioritized
Native, immigrant and working-class women and LGBTQIA+ peoples. “We
were careful to go beyond the elite, white-dominated ‘advocates’
circles,” she told _Truthout_. The contributors in this circle were
organizers, academics, activists, midwives and mothers, representing
grassroots organizations, large nonprofits, unions and government
agencies.

“This is how we should be doing all of our policy making and
planning,” said Kathleen Algire, director of the Hawaii Children’s
Action Network, who was a member of the task force. “We can no
longer say that ‘we can’t wait for the time community
collaboration takes.’ We did it fast and we didn’t sacrifice the
community to get it done.”

Mykie Ozoa, an organizer with AF3IRM Hawaii, the state’s largest
grassroots feminist network, saw this collaboration as key to
producing pragmatic recommendations. “The Commission was adamant
that the voices of women organizing to address issues on the ground in
our communities were included, and I believe it is one reason this
plan is so unique and offers urgent but easily attainable
recommendations.”

Within the plan itself, the attention given to care work, such as
child care and elder care, is substantial. “You cannot separate
women from caregiving, unpaid or paid,” said Algire, who helped
draft the child care recommendations. They include universal free
child care for all emergency and essential workers, paid family and
sick leave, and mandated pay parity for child care workers to
educators and nurses. “What we keep repeating is ‘there is no
economic recovery without child care.’ For parents to go back to
work, their children need to be cared for.”

Algire pointed out the stark shortage of child care spaces available
in Hawaii, even before the pandemic, with space for only 1 in 37
toddlers in the state. For many, child care costs are already their
second-highest expense, after rent. “When families don’t have
access to safe, affordable, quality child care, they are put in an
impossible situation,” Algire told _Truthout_. “If it’s a
two-parent household, one parent will likely leave the workforce.
Because women are paid less, they are typically who we see staying
home.”

This often cost two-parent households a second income and many single
mothers their _only_ income, and it also impacts the employment side
of the child care industry, too, where the workforce is mostly women.
“Like many other professions, you may see men owning or serving as
directors of large centers, but the primary workforce is women,”
Algire said. “Child care is a low-paying job and [that fact] is a
disgrace. These are the people we are entrusting our children’s
lives to and they should be paid more than minimum wage.”

The plan emphasizes that the industry cannot return to this
unsustainable “normal” — state economic policies must help it
change. “If a community, state or country wants to see workforce
participation like we had [pre-pandemic], child care as an industry
will need support. It will need to be subsidized,” Algire said.
“The folks that are supporting, teaching, guiding, caring and loving
our kids deserve better. Caring for children is hard, draining work.
It is undervalued because it is seen as ‘women’s work.’ We’ve
got to change that.”

Health care for women and LGBTQIA+ people is also centered in the
plan, with significant attention paid to supporting maternal health
services in the state. Tanya Smith-Johnson, who worked at an
organization called The Big Push for Midwives, told _Truthout _that
maternal care policy must include deep and consistent consultation
with pregnant and birthing people in order to fully address their
needs, especially Black and Native people, who face additional
marginalization within the maternal health care system.

In fact, one of the five key recommendations made in diversifying and
reshaping the economy is “to harness the role of midwifery to
improve deficits in maternal and neonatal health care in Hawaii,
especially in rural areas.” The plan’s recommendations include
ensuring that insurance companies and Medicaid cover midwifery
services fully, and matching hospital-based midwives with community
midwives to meet the increasing demand for out-of-hospital birth
options, as many who are pregnant wish to give birth out of hospitals
to reduce COVID-19 transmission risk.

The writers of the plan wanted the word “feminism” front and
center — in the report itself and in the conversations it will spur.
“If the plan isn’t feminist, it’s patriarchal and will fail to
deliver a resilient, strong economy,” Jabola-Carolus said, and urged
that the individual policy recommendations put forth cannot be removed
from the systemic critique that “feminism” actually articulates.
“Feminism, in terms of policy, is mostly stuff that has broad public
support, but we need to _say ‘_feminist’ in order to actually
talk about the culture surrounding those policies. It has to be about
root causes,” Jabola-Carolus said.

Take paid family leave, for example. It’s an incredibly popular
policy, and would decrease one form of gender inequality in the
workplace, where women are often forced out of careers in order to
perform unpaid care work for family members. But if paid family leave
is not introduced as an explicitly feminist policy, it can erase the
broader structures of inequality that allow other forms of workplace
discrimination to persist. It just seems like one problem with one
policy fix, and not part of anything systemic. For Jabola-Carolus,
“this was a call to the left to be explicitly feminist in the same
way that it’s finally, explicitly naming systemic racism.” She
says naming feminism is critical for progressive movements’ policy
platforms to adequately address institutionalized oppression.

The word “feminism” might be used in popular culture more than
ever before, but this is not reflected in policy. Only one federal
bill has ever been proposed that uses it: a 2017 piece of legislation
to commemorate women’s rights leader Bella Abzug for her “feminist
presence” in Congress.

Jabola-Carolus said she wasn’t aware of any other state-level
economic plan that put feminism in its title. All of the
advocates _Truthout _spoke to also viewed this first-time inclusion
of “feminist” as hugely significant. Sarah Michal Hamid, a youth
organizer who also sat on the committee, said it was
“groundbreaking,” as “it means that finally a government agency
is recognizing that women and non-men are unevenly burdened under our
current economy, and that this needs to change.”

But the goal is for its usage in policy to be eventually commonplace,
a consequence of serious gender consideration in all planning. “It
shouldn’t be unique that a state plan centers women and girls. When
the most marginalized are centered, everyone else’s needs will also
be met,” Ozoa said. “I hope that other states use this opportunity
to take stock and reprioritize.”

The women who put together the Hawaii plan do believe that their work
can provide a pathway for feminists’ engagement in other states.

“I hope other states adapt it to their needs, keeping the essence of
the document, because it really is a plan that is universal and
necessary,” Smith-Johnson told _Truthout. _This might look
different based on each state’s demographic, employment and industry
needs, but could share common commitments to tackling economic
realities that marginalize women.

For other states embarking on their own drafting processes, Hawaii’s
advocates are the first to admit that there is room for these
recommendations to grow. In future iterations, both Jabola-Carolus and
Ozoa noted they would like to see a stronger integration of
transformative justice frameworks that pursue gender-based violence
prevention without relying on mass incarceration. Smith-Johnson would
like to see how these recommendations could influence federal-level
feminist economic policy: “Can you imagine the impact that would
have?”

For now, the report lives in the halls of Hawaii’s House and Senate,
as legislators review proposals and apportion COVID-19 recovery funds
in the weeks that follow. “I know this plan will have a ripple
effect on how we move forward,” said Algire. “Unlike other plans
that will sit on a shelf and be forgotten, this will be a guiding
document for years to come.”

Hamid said she hopes that the questions raised in this report
reverberate all around the country. “As other governments begin this
‘road to recovery,’ they should carefully consider who is allowed
on that road, and whose backs it is being built on.”

_Mara Dolan (she/her) works on climate and gender justice research and
advocacy at the Women’s Environment and Development Organization
[[link removed]], focusing on policy change envisioned by
the Feminist Agenda for a Green New Deal
[[link removed]]. As a journalist, her work focuses
on climate justice and women’s rights, and has been published
in The Nation, Teen Vogue, Bitch Media and other outlets. She is
currently based out of Rhode Island but calls central Illinois home._

Copyright, Truthout [[link removed]]. Reprinted with
permission. May not be reprinted without permission.

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