Society and Culture
SHOCKING: Women Are Disproportionately Shut Out by the Shutdown
The government has been shuttered for three days now, and things are already starting to look bleak.
I’ve written about how the GOP’s obsession with defunding Obamacare is really about a racist, sexist, elitist desire to keep privilege (and life’s basic necessities) concentrated among rich, white, straight men. And that’s what’ll happen if the Affordable Care Act gets defunded.
But even though Obamacare hasn’t been axed, those of us who are outside of privilege are already starting to feel the heat. While Congress engages in the world’s most irritating staring contest, government programs that disproportionately serve women and people of color are already starting to run dry.
One of the first things to circle the drain are WIC payments. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has been deemed a non-essential government service. That means, while the government is shut down, WIC’s doors will be closed. More than half of the country’s babies rely on WIC to receive proper nutrition, and their mothers are the ones who will be left with crying, hungry, and sick children.
I’m sorry, but how can feeding babies possibly be considered non-essential? That’s really just awful. Especially considering that Republicans added a “conscience clause” to their ridiculous, let’s-shut-down-the-government ransom bill that would cut women off from accessing contraceptive and other preventive health services.
So basically, the GOP is pushing legislation that would simultaneously result in more babies, while denying food to those who already exist. And who has to figure out how to survive in all this mess? Women. More specifically, poor women of color. I’m sure they really appreciate that, Ted Cruz.
And it doesn’t stop there. Head Start programs, which provide early education to low-income children, might have to stop serving their students, depending on how long this government shutdown lasts. A handful of Head Start programs will get hit immediately, with the rest following suit as this game of Congressional chicken drags on. Again, we’re seeing the GOP push legislation that creates more kids, while denying education to the ones who are already here. And who has to pay the price? All the mothers who will skip work, and potentially miss out on wages, to care for their children who have been turned away from shuttered Head Starts.
And those wages are really important, especially if this shutdown lasts any substantial amount of time. As temperatures drop, heating bills will rise, and the Low Income Home Energy program — which disproportionately serves women — won’t be able to provide assistance. Neither will the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, which is, once again, overwhelmingly used by women. Single mothers will have to decide between paying rent, feeding their children, or heating their homes. How can we allow that to happen?
All of this is happening because our elected Congress-people can’t — or won’t — do their jobs. This is professional incompetency at its finest, and it’s entirely unacceptable. But it also reveals a lot about our national state of affairs.
While the GOP may have started this ridiculousness with the goal of blocking legislation that would benefit underprivileged people, it’s clear that systematic inequality is already in place. Anyone who argues that racism and sexism are things of the past only needs to look at what’s happening right now to see that they’re wrong.
If racism and sexism were over, women and people of color wouldn’t be hit the hardest when our lawmakers fail to do their jobs. They wouldn’t be the ones who have to choose between feeding their children and heating their homes. And most importantly, those struggles would be making top headlines in news outlets across the country.
But that’s not the case. Women and people of color are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to this government shutdown, and they’re barely making any headlines about it. It’s no coincidence that veterans — who are mostly white and male — failing to receive government benefits has caused national outrage, while the single mothers who depend on WIC remain largely in the shadows.
As Republicans fight tooth and nail to keep women, people of color, queer people, and the poor disenfranchised, they wind up highlighting all of the ways that these communities are oppressed in the first place.
So thanks, guys. You’re making my job a little bit easier.
Hannah R. Winsten (@HannahRWinsten) is a freelance copywriter, marketing consultant, and blogger living in New York’s sixth borough. She hates tweeting but does it anyway. She aspires to be the next Rachel Maddow.
Featured image courtesy of [cool revolution via Flickr]