If women voters propel a blue wave that puts Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) in the White House, and flips party control of the Senate, the nation’s issue agenda will shift dramatically. The Senate that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) turned into a legislative graveyard could be reborn as a proactive chamber that stands for equality and justice for all.
Our country’s ingrained culture of structural racism and misogynoir has set women of color and low-income communities up for hardships concerning access to health care, economic opportunities and violence at an early age. Women and specifically women of color are tired of waiting for equal pay and economic justice.
One of the factors driving women — particularly women of color — to the polls is the glaring inequity that perpetuates discrimination, violence against women and threats to women’s choice and autonomy. We are voting not only for new leaders but also for a new way of leading. This direction is feminist, intersectional, and long overdue.
A feminist agenda is based on feminist principles — including standing against racial injustice, toxic masculinity, misogynoir (anti-Black sexism faced by Black women), anti-womanhood and policies, laws and campaigns that weaken or erase women’s rights. It’s a way of seeing the world and feeling compelled to act.
Violence against women should be treated as a public safety and public health crisis that impacts schools, the workplace, and our families. And every woman and girl should have the same access to protect and make decisions about their bodies.
Women have too much on the line this election and we will be the deciding vote. We are demanding a feminist agenda would prioritize policies that protect women and marginalized groups under the law. We know that many voters are energized by our core principles of autonomy, justice and equality.
One of a woman’s most basic rights is the right to make autonomous decisions about her own body and her health care. A newly supercharged conservative majority on the Supreme Court in place to overturn Roe v. Wade threatens that right. Protecting abortion rights and access to a wide range of affordable reproductive health care services must be a top priority for the new Senate.
The Senate’s failure to improve and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is one of McConnell’s darkest legacies. He continues to propel a culture of toxic masculinity by supporting legislation favored by the NRA that protects the “boyfriend loophole,” allowing access to guns by physically abusive ex-boyfriends and stalkers with previous convictions.
The EMPOWER Act to stop workplace harassment and discrimination and the SAFE Act to help survivors of domestic and sexual violence continue to sit in the Senate graveyard once again, proving that this Senate wants to maintain the status quo — a culture that disregards women and treats them as second-class citizens. New legislators must promote policies and services that stop this culture of violence, hold perpetrators accountable and bring justice to survivors.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) corrects an error in the Constitution that fails to guarantee the same rights for citizens irrespective of sex. The next Senate will have to deal with the issue of validating the process that currently came to a successful conclusion when Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment.
This historic amendment not only provides equality for all women under law but also helps proactively fight the injustices often felt by women of color. The Senate’s disregard for equality does not stop there. The Equality Act, which would strengthen anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQIA+ persons in all areas of life, sits on the Senate floor even though the Supreme Court affirmed employment protections for LGBTQIA+ people under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
If elections are said to have consequences, this one has more than most and women have the most at stake. If we want women’s rights protected, candidates must listen to what voters want. We have less than two weeks to mobilize our efforts to protect women’s rights and change the makeup of the U.S. Senate. We won’t stop until our representatives truly reflect our values and prioritize a feminist agenda. After all, women’s lives depend on it.
Christian F. Nunes is president of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
This article appeared in The Hill, October 30, 2020.