Millions of Americans and supporters around the world joined in Women's Marches held on Saturday. We felt so much love, so much energy, so much cathartic relief, knowing our voices are vital in shaping the futures we want to see. And now the question is: What should we do with this momentum, what future should we demand?
I believe we can unify the diverse multitudes of women, and men, by recognizing and attacking poverty as a women's issue. Here's why:
- One in eight American women live in poverty. For African-American and Hispanic women the rates are much higher - more than 20 percent.
Women's poverty and child poverty are linked. Children comprise the poorest single group in the United States - one in five grow up living in poverty - and the risk of poverty doubles for children who live in female-headed households.
Clearly, women's poverty is a huge and entrenched problem. That does not mean that we cannot make change. Here are four suggestions to get us started.
Make sure your activism is economically diverse. The slam against feminism has always been that it is a movement for well-off white women. Today, most politically active women are engaged in including all voices. We need to accelerate these efforts.
Do women of all income levels participate in and speak for your group?
Are there barriers to participation, like access to child care and transportation, that the group can work to address?
Does your agenda embrace and advance the needs of all women?
When our activism is economically diverse, we are better able to fight the demonization of women, particularly those who are struggling single moms stuck in low-wage jobs, or those receiving the government assistance necessary to meet the basic needs of their children and families. Too often, women living in poverty are subjected to disrespectful venom and public shaming, which makes programs that benefit them an easy target for budget cuts.
Talk about how self-sufficiency builds prosperous futures. In no state is the minimum wage adequate to meet the cost of living. Find out what the self-sufficiency standard is in your area. Fight hard to make sure that your minimum wage permits women and children to build self-sufficient futures. Remember that preventing poverty is a women's issue. Mother's Day would be a great time to get out those pink pussy hats and hold a rally in support of a living wage for working families.
Fight for a family-friendly community. Taking care of a family is hard work - even if you have a good income and are sharing that work with a partner. Think how much harder it is for someone doing it without one or both of those assets. So stand up for things that will make life easier for overextended moms. These include before and afterschool care; free and reduced-price school meals that are good enough that you'd feed them to your own children; publicly funded summer recreation and feeding programs; senior day care and much more. These things will make communities better for everyone and will be lifesavers to mothers already under stress.
Partner with nonprofits that serve women. My bias, of course, is toward diaper banking. One in three low-income mothers struggles to afford diapers. Moms report that diaper need is more stressful than food insecurity. Since child care providers won't accept children without a daily supply of diapers, diaper need keeps moms out of work, and women and children in poverty. Organizing a diaper drive in your community can help moms and their children access a most basic need, a clean diaper.
You can also support programs that train women for better-paying jobs, provide services to women reentering the community after incarceration, serve as incubators for women-owned businesses, or tutor women returning to school. That's obviously an extremely abbreviated list. Find your passion and roll up your sleeves. Remain involved.
Saturday was amazing, but sisterhood isn't just a weekend thing. The economic inequality faced by American women is unacceptable. One of my favorite chants at the Women's March repeated the words of civil rights activist Ella Baker, "We who believe in freedom cannot rest."
You're not free when you are poor. Need constrains your life in a thousand ways. It even limits your dreams. We cannot rest until all our sisters are free from the injustice of poverty.