As Governor David Ige floated the idea of pay cuts for teachers and other state employees last week, the Hawai?i State Commission on the Status of Women offered a different take on how the state should cope with economic losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the governor’s proposal to recover anticipated budget shortfalls by skimming the paychecks of already underpaid workers, many of whom are on the frontlines of the crisis, the HSCSW recommendations start by centering women, who work in large numbers in caregiving, healthcare, education, social service, and food service jobs which remain at work.
“The road to economic recovery should not be across women’s backs,” the report, titled Building Bridges, Not Walking on Backs: A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for COVID-19 begins. While women are deeply affected by COVID-19 because of their disproportionate representation in areas such as domestic services, health care, and social services, the challenges they face are multi-faceted. “[W]omen in our communities have never been busier taking care of loved ones, provisioning supplies, and finding ways to offset the enormous economic and social burdens of this time,” states the report. “These aspects of the economy usually go uncounted and hidden yet there would be no economy without these activities.”
At the same time, financial vulnerability and stay-at-home orders have also increased the risk of exploitation and abuse
“Women’s health, livelihoods and bodily integrity are also particularly at risk during this time due to reports of increased domestic violence, sex trafficking including sexual harassment and coercion by landlords, interruptions to abortion access on the neighbor islands, women’s roles caring for the ill and other longstanding gender inequalities,” states the report.
To the HSCSW this all goes to illustrate that any recovery effort that excludes an analysis of gender and does not actively seek the perspectives of organizations working with women is ill-suited to completely address the social and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
HSCSW identifies the current moment as a unique time to highlight the importance of gender issues, pay, “essential” yet underpaid workers, and social services.
“The COVID-19 response and recovery plan sets the stage for a series of what could be some of the most important and transformative policy decisions that Hawai‘i and the world have the opportunity to enact,” it states. “This is our moment to build a system that is capable of delivering gender equality. It is time to center gender in the nation’s rising racial and economic justice movements.”
“[W]e are witnessing the social re-valuing, in limited terms, of certain forms of work that have been structured and siloed into the most low-paid occupations such as caregiving, government administration, food and delivery services.”
Read the full report at Humanservices.hawaii.gov/hscsw. Key recommendations from the HSCSW report include:
1. Build a feminist COVID-19 response and recovery plan to include input from the impacted, essential sectors that employ a majority of women and organizations that serve women, girls and people who identify as women, femme and nonbinary
2. To contain costs or enhance revenue the state should avoid austerity or fiscal consolidation measures and ensure no cuts to social services.
3. Shift from reliance on a precarious tourism industry, support displaced workers via an adjustment fund for retraining and professional mobility, and support social entrepreneurship approaches. Enhance women’s access to capital and invest in subsistence livin.
4. Use federal stimulus funds to promote reform and programs for parents and caregivers, housing, Native Hawaiians, and more.
5. To diversify and reshape the economy away from military, tourism, and luxury development, while building the state?s social infrastructure (childcare, education, and healthcare). Raise the minimum wage to a livable wage, offer paid family and sick leave, and center food self-sufficiency programs.
What do you think?
Do you think public workers should receive a pay cut to make up for budget shortfalls due to COVID-19?
Take the poll: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/paycuts
Image courtesy Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women