The Shutdown Sucks For Everyone But Is Taking A Bigger Toll On Women

CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaste
CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaste

The government shutdown, which has lasted for nearly two weeks and could stretch on as many as six more, is a budget fight that is currently being negotiated solely by men. It’s possible that the gender imbalance is one of the factors that’s preventing lawmakers from being able to strike a deal, as analyses have shown that men are more likely to take risks and less likely to concede in negotiations.

However, even though the current budget crisis was created by men and continues to be sustained by men, that’s not the population feeling most of the pain resulting from it. Keeping the government closed is actually having a disproportionate effect on women.

This type of uneven gender dynamic is most evident in the instances when men work to legislate women’s reproductive health — an element that was present in the shutdown fight, too, as Republicans proposed rolling back women’s access to birth control under Obamacare in exchange for keeping the government funded. But male lawmakers make decisions that end up mainly affecting women in other areas, too, as clearly illustrated in the current stand-off. Here are six examples of the way the government shutdown is disproportionately harming the women who aren’t making decisions about it:

1. Federal Workers’ Pay

Women make up an estimated 43 percent of the federal workplace — but they’re disproportionately represented in the types of clerical jobs that are likely to get furloughed. Women who work for the federal government still tend to be overrepresented in administrative, human resource, and assistant-level jobs, and compared to men, they’re more likely to be bringing home smaller paychecks in the first place. There have been concerns that the workers who are currently furloughed may not receive back pay.

2. Nutrition For Low-Income Mothers And Infants

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) hasn’t gotten any federal money since the government shut down October 1. Nearly 9 million low-income mothers and their children around the country rely on the program to afford food and formula. At first, all states except for North Carolina were providing benefits, and the state has since reversed course and will join the rest. But that will only last so long. Some states may only be able to cover the benefits for a few weeks or so. If the government remains shut into November, as Republicans are now proposing, some states may halt benefits to some of their neediest residents.

3. Rape Kits

If the government shutdown stretches on into November, it could eventually halt rape kits in Washington, DC. It’s just one of the many ways that the shutdown disproportionately impacts the nation’s capital, whose budget is under federal control. The two groups responsible for rape kits in DC anticipate running out of local and federal funds after this month. Rape kit processing is already notoriously sluggish across the country, an issue that can make navigating the court system even more difficult for victims of sexual assault — particularly since forensic evidence of rape quickly degrades.4. College Sexual Assault Investigations


The federal investigations into U.S. colleges’ notoriously problematic sexual assault policies have been put on hold during the shutdown. When students or staff allege that their university is breaking federal law by under-reporting rapes or dissuading victims from coming forward, the case is handled by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. But those cases aren’t considered to be essential during the shutdown, so they’re all on hold until the government re-opens. That means federal officials aren’t in contact with the college students who filed formal complaints, and can’t conduct follow-up visits for the universities whose cases have recently been settled.

5. Domestic Violence Programs

Programs that offer shelter and support services to victims of domestic violence aren’t able to draw down any of their federal funding so long as the government remains closed. While some have other sources of funding to fall back on, others, particularly small, rural programs, could quickly face the possibility of shutting down their operations. Some are considering layoffs. Most have already faced severely reduced government funding, with 80 percent reporting a drop last year. Programs had already warned that the budget cuts from sequestration could lead to more homicides of women who are denied services.

6. Child Care And Head Start

Working moms are going to be put in a bind the longer the shutdown lasts. Twenty-three Head Start programs across the country were expecting federal money in October, and without it some have faced the need to close classrooms. More than 7,000 children in six states lost access, but since then wealthy philanthropists have offered the national organization enough money to keep it open for now. But the longer the shutdown lasts, more programs will face the same challenge. When a classroom shuts down, not only does a child lose access to preschool, but some parents are forced to quit their jobs because they have no where to leave their kids. The same problem will face working mothers if child care subsidies dry up during the shutdown. All federal money has been cut off since last Tuesday, and while states should have prior year funding to fall back on to cover the costs in the meantime, those funds may have been depleted by sequestration, a drop in welfare funding, and the ending of stimulus money.