(April 19, 2021) — April 30 will mark President Joe Biden’s 100th day in office. As the Biden/Harris administration continues to put its agenda in action, the Women and Girls Foundation (WGF) is thinking about the future for women and girls, and what a more equitable world can look like.
WGF and its GirlGov civic engagement and social justice program engaged women, girls and femmes in our region through various digital events and social media platforms to map out an agenda for what issues they would like to see state legislators and the Biden/Harris administration prioritize in 2021. The Women and Girls Foundation also looked to recent national reports from longtime national coalition partners, including the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), the National Women’s Law Center, FamilyValues@Work and The Center for American Progress.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, more than 61.2 million women live in a household that has lost work income since the COVID-19 pandemic began. WGF hosted several online conversations and digital offerings during Women’s History Month, encouraging attendees to think about these questions: How can we center women — and especially women of color — in economic recovery efforts moving forward? What should the new administration prioritize in the first 100 days? What do you want local and state leaders to know and to focus on in order to help your family become healthy and whole again? The following agendas were developed by and for the community.
POLICY PRIORITIES FOR GIRLS IN 2021
● IMMIGRATION RIGHTS:
○ Regional level: GirlGov participants support efforts to shut down Berks County Family Detention Center in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania — a detention center for immigrant families where children as young as a few weeks old have been incarcerated.
○ Federal level: We advocate that President Biden extend his executive order to end contracts with private prison contractors to include ICE detention centers and all federal contracts with private immigration detention facilities.
● HEALTH AND SEX EDUCATION:
○ State level: GirlGov participants are pushing for comprehensive sex education through efforts to get House Bill 1586 passed in Pennsylvania.
○ Federal level: We advocate for the reintroduction of the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, which was introduced previously by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). GirlGov also supports the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020, which includes nine bills introduced by Congresswoman Alma Adams, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, then-Sen. Kamala Harris and members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus.
● MENTAL HEALTH:
○ Regional and state levels: GirlGov participants are advocating for the state education committee to increase state funding for mental health support in public schools.
○ Federal level: We support more bills like H.R.8639 — Mental Health Justice Act of 2020.
● CURRICULAR REFORM:
○ Regional level: GirlGov participants are advocating that local school boards add a requirement of anti-racist training for teachers.
○ Federal level: Specifically, we’re pushing for Sen. Booker or others to introduce a federal bill that would create a federal fund grant opportunity to be made available to schools to teach the 1691 Project curriculum in elementary and secondary schools, along with anti-racism training for teachers.
● DISCIPLINARY JUSTICE COMMITTEE:
○ Regional level: GirlGov participants have joined local coalition efforts to end the adultification bias of Black girls in schools.
○ Federal level: When the Every Student Succeeds Act is reauthorized in 2021, we hope it’s amended with the following priorities: teach BIPOC culture in schools; recruit, train and retain more BIPOC teachers; train all teachers using anti-racism curriculum; hire more social workers and counselors than police officers in schools and reallocate funding to do so; implement restorative justice practices in schools; and establish healthy social and emotional relationships with students through the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum and with a more holistic, interdisciplinary curriculum, including play, music and the arts.
● ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE:
○ Regional and federal levels: GirlGov participants support more efforts to end fast-fashion and its detrimental impact on the environment. They’ve met with local clothing manufacturers, including some with national and international distribution, and encourage everyone to become environmentally sustainable and informed consumers and advocates by researching the origin and sustainability of their clothing retailers; using their money and voice to advocate for change; and embracing more sustainable practices.
POLICY PRIORITIES FOR WOMEN IN 2021
WGF is a co-signer of the National Women’s Law Center’s 100 Bold Wins for Women and Girls in the First 100 Days. In addition to the bold proposals outlined in that document, WGF strongly encourages our state and federal elected officials to prioritize the following issues throughout 2021, which will be key to building a lasting caring infrastructure to ensure that women are able to return to the workforce, and that all families and communities are able to begin economic recovery efforts.
● RACIAL JUSTICE AND DISABILITY, TRANS AND LGBTQ RIGHTS: Policies aimed at improving racial justice and deconstructing systemic racism must be a priority for elected officials at every level of government, including local school boards, municipalities, state legislatures, Congress and the new presidential administration. Nearly 50% of Black women who participated in the Institute for Women’s Policy Research survey listed this as their top priority. The majority of women live at the intersection of race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic and documentation status. Systemic racism, misogyny, homophobia, ableism and discrimination based in white supremacy and patriarchy impact and inhibit lives and futures every day, from cradle to grave. No issue can be approached, improved or remedied if it is not considered through an intersectional lense.
● HEALTHCARE, THE RECESSION AND JOBS: The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for women economically, especially women of color. In total, more than 2.3 million women were pushed out of the workforce over the last year (National Women’s Law Center, March 2021). According to recent research from our colleagues at IWPR, nearly half of all women worry they may not have enough income to pay their family’s bills. 60% of Hispanic women reported their families lost employment during the pandemic, and a majority of Black and Hispanic women worry about having enough food to eat and affordable healthcare. Lawmakers need to support and invest in “returnship programs” to support workers’ efforts to re-enter the workforce, and the creation of family sustaining workplaces which include increases to the minimum wage, paid sick days, paid family leave, and access to affordable healthcare, transportation, and child care.
● REFORM FOR CHILDCARE: Even before the pandemic, according to researchers at Fourth Economy, 13% of parents left the workforce every year due to childcare issues. In Allegheny County alone pre-pandemic, that resulted in 11,800 working parents becoming unemployed. Fourth Economy estimates an additional 10,890 working parents exited the workforce in 2020 because of Covid-19 related childcare issues. As a result, Pennsylvania lost $18 million in state and local income taxes. $422 million was lost to employees in wages, and $93 million was lost to employers due to employee turnover. state and federal lawmakers need to invest more resources in childcare funding; support and invest in reopening child care centers; support new tax policies, like the increased child care tax credit and per-child tax deduction; and encourage and advocate for employer subsidized or supported childcare and paid family leave.
● FAMILY LEAVE POLICIES: The current system has been exposed for being inequitable, inefficient, unhealthy and unsustainable. Systemic racism, economic and healthcare inequities made Black and Brown communities disproportionately at risk to become critically ill with COVID-19. Yet 40% of people of color had NO access to paid leave in 2020 (Source: National Partnership for Working Families). Latinx (66%), Black (83%), and Native American, Pacific Islander and multiracial (100%) workers were less likely to have access to paid leave when needed. Elected officials must work, in a bi-partisan fashion, to pass legislation like the Family Care Act sponsored in Pennsylvania by Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie), Sen. Maria Collett (D-Bucks/Montgomery), Rep. Wendi Thomas (R-Bucks) and Rep. Dan Miller (D-Allegheny), and the Family Act at the federal level to establish government-supported paid leave programs to increase access to paid leave to all workers. Families and small businesses need paid family and medical leave to survive economically and to help keep our communities safe and healthy.
● RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE: Raising the minimum wage is key to lifting millions of women out of poverty. 59% of minimum wage workers are women — resulting in 19 million women who would benefit from raising the minimum wage. 53% of Black women, 53% of Native American women and 49% of Latinas working in low-paid jobs live below 200% of the federal poverty line (National Women’s Law Center, March 2021 report).
ABOUT THE WOMEN AND GIRLS FOUNDATION (wgfpa.org)
The Women And Girls Foundation (WGF) is a nonprofit organization based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, engaged in statewide programming and policy work. The mission of WGF is to achieve equality for women and girls, now and for generations to come. In pursuit of this mission, WGF breaks down barriers so that every girl can rise and every woman can soar. GirlGov is WGF’s successful civic engagement program for those who identify as high school-aged young women interested in developing as our next generation of leaders, advocates and changemakers. For more information visit: (wgfpa.org/our-work/girlgov)
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WOMEN & GIRLS FOUNDATION