While the country takes steps to reopen, and the news cycles are filled with examinations of society returning to normal, Hawaii is taking steps to rebuild rather than simply return to the status quo. In fact, the state is looking to seize the opportunity “to build a system that is capable of delivering gender equality.”
Hawaii is the first state to propose what it’s calling a “Feminist Economic Recovery Plan,” and some of the basic ideas touted in Building Bridges Not Walking On Backs include raising the minimum wage to a living wage ($24.80/hour for single mothers), the adoption of a universal basic income, universal single payer health care, paid sick days and paid family leave, a restructuring of the tax system, publicly funded childcare for all essential workers, and more.
Hawaii is unique in that it has some of the highest costs for childcare and elder care, and the largest shortage of care services in the U.S., which is why women have pointed out the need for social share infrastructure. The plan, produced by the state’s Commission on the Status of Women, addresses that need as part of a call for “deep cultural change” by explicitly incorporating the unique needs of indigenous and immigrant women, caregivers, elderly women, femme-identifying and non-binary people, incarcerated women, unsheltered women, domestic abuse and sex trafficking survivors, and women with disabilities.
New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has called COVID-19 “the great equalizer” and this plan out of Hawaii illustrates that it is time to take that point to heart and look at a ways to build a future that sustains us all. The plan states that, “Rather than rush to rebuild the status quo of inequality, we should encourage a deep structural transition to an economy that better values the work we know is essential to sustaining us. We should also address the crises in healthcare, social, ecological and economic policies laid bare by the epidemic.”
Looking beyond COVID-19, the International Labour Organization, UN Women, and the European Union have also called on G7 nations to put measures in to promote gender equality moving forward. Citing the fact that the pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities and exposed cracks in social, political and economic systems, the organizations find that women with care responsibilities, informal workers, low-income families, and youth are under particular pressure.
Hilde Hardeman, Head of the European Commission’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI), said, “We can say that the COVID-19 crisis is gender biased looking at its impact on women-owned businesses, on the burden women are facing during the crisis, at the increase of gender based violence, but the COVID crisis is also an opportunity to rebuild back better. Our efforts should now concentrate on putting women at the centre of the recovery.”
While these past weeks have been a time of personal reflection, we need to revisit that piece of graffiti in Hong Kong that proclaims, “We can’t return to normal, because the normal we had was precisely the problem.”
It’s time to tackle the elephant in the room. As we look ahead, sure, there are personal changes we want to take forward with us – like unscheduled weekends or daily walks, routine self-care, time to make art, time with friends, or watching the sunset. But we also need to look beyond that and address changes that need to be made in the workplace, and systemic changes in our society. We need to take this time to look for ways to close the pay gap, to get more women into leadership roles, to address sexism, and bias. We need to pressure our elected officials to make sure that women have the supports they need to thrive, and to make meaningful contributions to their families and communities. And ultimately, we need to look for ways to tackle these issues together and build a society that is truly gender equal and sustains us all. Now – before things return to normal – we need to pause, take stock, and redefine normal.