For Mother’s Day this year, instead of sending cards and flowers, I’d like to see us embrace things mothers really need the most. Companies love viral marketing campaigns about how mothers are extraordinary, and lots of lawmakers give lip service to the importance of family values. Instead of asking mothers to be super human, it’s time we put our focus on policies that will actually make the lives of mothers and their families better.
Let’s start with championing policies to protect expectant mothers from losing their jobs. Just like we have laws that require reasonable accommodations for a worker with a disability, pregnant women should have the same guarantees that minor allowances will be made for their condition. For example, allowing them to carry a bottle of water or to sit down to work. Having job security and health care through a pregnancy is incredibly important for the economic welfare and health of a family. Folks who care about family values should fight for families to have these basic rights.
Second, we can support mothers by investing more in early childhood education and expanding affordable childcare options. We had a robust conversation last month around Equal Pay Day and the factors that hold women back from making as much as their male counterparts. Given that women are still the primary caregivers in the household, one of the most tangible things we can do to address the pay gap is provide high-quality, affordable childcare options. We need better childcare options so women can continue to work without taking a break from their careers and without spending all of their wages on childcare.
We know the years women take out of the workforce will depress their wages for most of their careers, and we also know reentry into the workforce can be challenging. Many of the women staying home are not there out of choice, but because they cannot find work. We also know that our economy does better overall when more women participate in the workforce. We must support those women who need to return to work by providing affordable childcare – we simply can’t afford not to.
The conversation around pay equity often fixates on whether pay discrimination still exists. Although discrimination is part of wage inequity, our failure to adequately support women workers is a systemic flaw that continues to hold women and families back. I am running for California State Senate to address these issues. I believe the state government must lead by example, so I have proposed an audit of government workers to identify if there is pay discrimination in our state. With more women than ever before providing the sole paycheck or the majority of take home pay for households, we are putting families and our economy at risk by not doing more to protect women workers.
Third, it’s critically important to ensure job protection and payment are part of our sick and family leave policies. Some states have made great progress on this issue, but between California state law and federal laws, there are holes. Again, we know it is most often women who take on these caregiver roles for kids, older parents or other relatives in need. It is unacceptable to leave them unprotected when they need to take time off of work to care for a sick family member.
Finally, it is time we end sexual assault on college campuses. Mothers deserve to know their children are safe at college, and schools must fulfill their commitment to respect and protect students. Much of the work I have done as a social justice attorney has been representing victims of gender-based violence, and I fought for the Violence Against Women Act’s SaVE provisions to make our campuses safer.
We do all mothers a disservice when we expect them to figure out how to pay for childcare that costs $20,000 a year or sacrifice their jobs to take care of a sick family member. Our lawmakers must find ways to create smart public policy that does more to lift women up and provide a safety net for working mothers and their families. I hope this Mother’s Day services as a reminder that on the local, state and federal level, there is so much work to be done.
Sandra Fluke is an attorney and women's rights activist running for California State Senate.