The YDWA Women’s Caucus posts monthly blog posts on topics related to all who identify as womxn. This months post was written by Seamus Davis on a topic important to YDWA (paid parental leave was one of our lobby day topics last February).
Although it is not guaranteed universally as it is in most other industrialized countries, maternal leave (paid time off for a mother to care for a newborn child) is a common benefit offered to working women in the United States. It has been proven to substantially improve the wellbeing of both the mother and the child in regards to physical and mental health. Researchers have also demonstrated that the less common practice of paternal leave (the same concept, except for working fathers) provides similar benefits. Activists and politicians have called for the US to follow the examples of other industrialized countries in guaranteeing paid maternal – and, less often, paternal – leave to all workers. However, activists have recently began reframing the issue, calling for universal parental leave, an important distinction that the YDWA Women’s Caucus wholehearted embraces. Here’s why.
Gender Roles – More traditional notions of maternal leave assume that the mother should stay home to care for the child while the father returns to work. The Women’s Caucus rejects these restrictive gender roles; men should not be shamed for missing work to care for a newborn child, and women should not be expected to put her career on hold to do the same. Such expectations harm both men and women by denying them the space to make decisions that are right for them and their families. It also denies the father and the newborn child the proven benefits of spending time together in the first weeks of the child’s life.
Furthermore, the gendered nature of maternal/paternal leave policies erase the legitimacy of families that don’t fit into the traditional paradigm: same-sex parents, transgender or nonbinary-gender parents, single parents, etc. As society becomes more accepting of such family structures, it is important that our family policies do not shut non-traditional parents out. That is why the Women’s Caucus supports gender-neutral parental leave policies, which grant parents paid time off regardless of their gender identity.
Equity in the Workplace – Women often face discrimination in the workplace, from the time they apply for a job to the point at which they should expect a promotion, simply because they are expected to have a child at some point. Employers anticipate that women will need extra paid time off when they have a child (time off a man would not need), and that their natural role as mothers would distract them from their work. By offering paid leave to all parents, we can take a big step toward leveling the playing field for women in the workplace. If workers of all genders are expected to take time off to care for a newborn, there will be less pressure on employers to avoid hiring women.
Offering paid leave to working parents regardless of gender will improve the quality of life for parents and newborns, break down harmful gender roles, and create a more equitable workplace. Join the YDWA Women’s Caucus in calling for universal parental leave for all!