Mandana Dayani, creator and co-founder of I am a voter, a nonpartisan movement that aims to create a cultural shift around voting and civic engagement, and co-host of The Dissenters podcast with Debra Messing, will always remember President Joe Biden’s inauguration. “It was really amazing,” Dayani told HeyMama. “My daughter is obsessed with Kamala Harris, and had been following the whole election with me and was just so happy when she won. We were watching the inauguration together and I was looking at her and was like, ‘You know, you can be president.’ I just had this moment with her. And just seeing herself reflected on television in that way, and represented, and seeing an incredible woman as vice president was so powerful.”
That doesn’t mean that Dayani has a “mission accomplished” mindset, or in any way believes now is the time to breathe a sigh of relief. While that moment did feel hopeful, she is acutely aware that the work of creating a more inclusive and equitable future for everyone is far from over.
“I don’t even know how anyone who has endured the last four years could ever think that the work is over,” she explained. “When we look at the incredible heroes — the people who have been working for years and decades on improving rights for people — it’s a very, very long task. There is so much work to be done.”
Much of that work is centered on undoing what a year of the COVID-19 pandemic has done to working mothers.
To date, nearly 3 million women have been pushed out of the workforce, a byproduct of women holding positions in industries that have been decimated by the on-going public health crisis and an unequal division of labor within the home that leave women shouldering the majority of household and childcare responsibilities.
“Education, health, personal services, hospitality, restaurant workers — all of those careers are generally held by these groups of people and we pay them less, we don’t offer them any paid time off, and we don’t give them any sort of job security,” Dayani explained. “They’re not even getting paid a livable wage. But we’re also like, ‘Yay! We love you! We are going to throw parades for you! That’s when these conversations feel performative. Like OK, sure, let’s celebrate them and let’s say thank you, but let’s also make sure they don’t have to work four jobs.”
From getting rid of student debt, which disproportionately impacts women of color, to raising the minimum wage, mandating paid family leave, ending the gender wage gap, which also disproportionately impacts Black, Latina, and Indigenous women, providing access to quality and affordable child and elder care, abolishing the Hyde Amendment and expanding access to abortion and other reproductive health care services, Dayani says now is the time to apply the pressure to the current administration to not only undue the harm caused in the last four years, but to “create a vision for the future and working together to build it.”
“That requires the collective responsibility of everybody,” Dayani said. “Without all of us showing up and all of us voting for the right people, I don’t know how we could ever get there.”
Part of that vision also includes pushing for people to invest in women-owned businesses and having more women run for office. While women account for 51% of the American population, they represent 24% of the US Senate, 27% of the US House of Representatives, and 30% of statewide elected executives. And currently, only 3% of business investments go to women. Yet studies have shown that when in leadership positions, be it political or business, women are more productive than their male counterparts. In 2017, an overview of a recent session of Congress found that a woman legislator, on average, passed twice as many bills as a male legislator. And in 2018 Hive, a productivity platform that works with large companies, found that women work 10% harder than men in today’s offices.
“I think that we need women to run and win and run again,” Dayani said. “But I think what’s hard is that we haven’t seen government work for us. People are so discouraged about participation because they just see an ineffective government that can’t get anything done.” That’s why Dayani says that we must continue to be encouraging and explain that “the only way to actually fix that is by getting involved.”
“We got to this place because people stopped showing up, people stopped advocating for each other, people didn’t recognize that the marginalization of other people affected their own rights,” she continued. “That you can’t just ignore racism.” Which is also why protecting the vote by expanding voter access and making sure legislative efforts to curtail voting rights, especially for Black and brown people, is also a vital part of creating the future Dayani is dedicated to fighting for.
“Yes, we got the crazy person out of office, but there’s just so much work to do,” she said. “There are so many state houses that need to be fixed and flipped, there are so many terrible legislations that exist all throughout the country that hurt women, hurt people of color.”
And while it can be overwhelming to take a step back and look at all that must be accomplished, Dayani says she believes that the strength of the collective will see her — see us all — through to that more equitable future.
“I think community is so powerful,” she says. “And when you think about the HeyMama community — these communities of women are so impactful, they’re so supportive. And I think leaning into those communities is going to be absolutely critical as we continue advocating for women’s rights.”