The Biden Administration’s Women’s Rights To-Do List
Over the past four years, the Trump administration has gone out of its way to launch attacks on women — including in housing, the workplace, and schools. When President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris take office, their administration and Congress must make it a top priority to not just undo the damage, but to push forward an agenda that will ensure everyone has the freedom to live, work, learn, and serve free from discrimination based on sex.
Here are just a few of the many items that should top the Biden administration’s to-do list:
Assure safe and stable housing for women and families.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put as many as 40 million people in this country at risk of eviction. This is both a racial justice and gender justice issue: Black women face eviction at twice the rate of white renters. And, once a family has been evicted, the devastating harms can follow them for years, exacerbating and reproducing conditions of economic inequality and preventing families from securing stable housing anywhere else.
Thankfully, the next administration can take concrete steps to ensure all people have access to safe and stable housing during the pandemic and beyond:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should extend and expand its eviction moratorium — currently set to expire on Dec. 31 — until Congress passes comprehensive relief. That must include measures such as rent relief that will allow families to remain stably housed, avoid debilitating amounts of back rent, and prevent the long-lasting harms of eviction. The Biden administration also can take action to address how prior eviction filings stop applicants from obtaining new housing, often for years, and advocate for the right to counsel for tenants, who usually are unrepresented in eviction cases.
- With reports that landlords are subjecting tenants to sexual harassment at alarming rates during the pandemic, the administration should require housing providers that receive federal funds take steps to stop this abuse by adopting policies to inform tenants of their rights. It should also support reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which — among other protections — would block local governments from adopting measures that allow eviction of residents simply because they call 911, allowing survivors of gender-based violence to remain in their homes.
- The incoming administration must also restore tools needed to dismantle residential segregation that lock out women, people of color and children from housing opportunities. The 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule was one important step in this direction, but the Trump administration gutted the rule before it could be effectively implemented. Similarly, the Trump-led Department of Housing and Urban Development rolled back a 2013 Disparate Impact rule protecting people harmed by policies that disproportionately injure women, people of color, and other marginalized groups who have historically faced barriers to housing. Reinstating both rules will lay a legal foundation for fair housing for all.
Remove barriers to workplace equality for women.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put women at the center of the most unequal recession in modern American history; more than 2 million women have left the workforce since January 2020, with Black women and other women of color hit the hardest. As we plan a path toward recovery, it’s more critical than ever to ensure women have equal access to opportunities on the job. In addition to any pandemic recovery plans, the next administration must prioritize and call on Congress to pass these critical measures:
- Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, to protect workers who need temporary job modifications during their pregnancies, so that they won’t have to choose between their paycheck and having a healthy pregnancy.
- BE HEARD in the Workplace Act, to make the promise of the #MeToo revolution a reality, and create workplaces free of harassment in all its forms.
- PUMP (Proving Urgent Maternal Protections) for Nursing Mothers Act, to make sure workers who need to pump on the job can do so safely, and without penalty.
In addition to fighting for these new protections, the Biden-Harris administration can help make existing protections a reality, through robust enforcement of civil rights and labor laws by government agencies. That includes holding corporations accountable for sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination and unfair labor practices by franchises, contractors, and others.
Eliminate sexual harassment and assault in our nation’s schools.
Sexual harassment and assault have no place in our schools, yet over a quarter of women endure sexual assault during their college years and more than half face harassment in junior high or high school. Instead of strengthening protections for these students, whose education can be derailed as a result, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos dramatically reduced schools’ obligations to respond to sexual harassment and assault at all. Thankfully, President-elect Joe Biden has already said his administration will withdraw DeVos’s damaging double standard, which allows schools to ignore reports of harassment based on sex where similar reports based on race, national origin, or religion would require an appropriate response. The Education Department must not only rescind the DeVos double standard, but replace it with strong protections against sexual harassment and fair processes for all students.
Ensure military opportunities are open to all regardless of sex.
The Biden administration should end the Department of Defense’s biased policies that harm women who want to serve in combat, including sex-segregated Marine Corps boot camp and refusing to assign junior female Army soldiers and Marines to combat units unless and until senior women officers are installed there, too.