COVID-19 has dramatically impacted Americans across the country over the last week, with serious…
Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Women Members of Congress in These Difficult Times
As the world responds to the current global health crisis, there has been well-deserved recognition of the women leaders from countries around the globe. They have been praised for their effective messaging and decisive action. It has been written that they have “demonstrated exemplary leadership and were met with successful results.” One article even stated that “they acted swiftly, decisively and, essentially, with no BS.” Reasons that have been provided have been the empathy women possess and the fact that women have a different leadership style than men. Women leaders have been credited with being able to be more direct while demonstrating care.
While there has been press attention focused on the women who are heads of state and running their countries, it is important to also note that women legislators are bringing their unique perspective to the pandemic response. While the bills members of Congress introduce and the actions that they take are often not done in the same public spotlight as the actions of presidents and prime ministers, the impact women in the House and Senate are having during these difficult times is critical.
Research has long shown that women legislators are more likely to introduce legislation that helps women. In state legislatures across the country, one study found that Democratic women were the most likely group of legislators in 2019 to champion legislation that supports women and their families – and to get that legislation passed. Issues like paid family leave, child care, and sexual harassment were among those cited. While I don’t like the term women’s issues – issues that impact women impact all Americans – the types of issues women members of Congress are raising, and the kinds of problems they are addressing, as Congress responds to Covid-19 are often those that will have the greatest impact on women.
A couple of examples…When the Senate was debating its first coronavirus response bill, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) offered a version of her PAID Leave Act to ensure that all workers have paid leave. She also secured funding for child care in the package, a burden that often falls on women. In the last month, the leadership of the Democratic Women’s Caucus sent a letter to Congressional leaders recognizing that as “COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the country, women and their families are particularly vulnerable to its devastating health and economic impacts” and demanding that “more must be done to ensure individuals struggling to make ends meet are not left behind.” Among other things, they raised the importance of funding for domestic violence programs and protections for reproductive freedom in relief packages. In addition, the leadership of the Bipartisan and Democratic Women’s Caucuses sent a letter to the CDC asking that research into how COVID-19 impacts pregnant and postpartum women be prioritized.
My former boss, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), used to convene a monthly dinner for women Senators. Although the attendees crossed party lines and represented different ideologies, Senator Mikulski said of the women in the Senate, “we are not a caucus, but we are a force.” While convenings like that cannot occur in an era of social distancing, the importance of having women’s voices in the Senate and House is critical to having every American’s viewpoint represented. As Congress continues to respond to communities’ needs as we recover from the impacts of COVID-19, women in Congress must keep raising these issues and, as Americans go to our polling places in November, we must remember the important role women are playing when they sit in those Congressional seats.