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Phoebe Taubman's picture

Women’s History Month is arriving this year in the midst of a “War on Women.” Many of the battles in today’s war are being fought on familiar ground—around women’s reproductive health and choice—but the surrounding context is quite different from that of wars gone by. In today’s America, women make up half of the workforce and many of them are primary earners for their families. Millions of families rely on women to afford food, health care, education, housing and the other essentials of life. And our economy relies on women to feed its engines of production. But in order for women to work, they need to be able to plan when and how they will have children. They also need workplace policies that protect them from discrimination and make it possible to them fulfill dual roles as workers and mothers.

Those waging the war on women today seem to fundamentally object to the value of women in the workplace. Through their policy priorities, these politicians and opinion-makers advocate a return to a world where women’s proper place is at home, not at work. By limiting contraceptive coverage they seek to limit a woman’s ability to plan her reproductive path alongside her career path. By opposing policies like paid sick days and paid family leave, they refuse to support working mothers, making it harder for them to stay in the workforce. If these cultural warriors truly cared about the welfare of unborn babies and the children they will become, they would advocate for fair treatment of pregnant women on the job. They would push to ensure that the United States join the rest of the world in guaranteeing paid maternity leave. They would aggressively combat the motherhood wage gap, and wholeheartedly support paid sick time for parents to care for their ill children. Instead, they remain steadfastly focused on limiting women’s reproductive choice.

At a time when policy-makers want to turn back the clock and deny women contraception to prevent unintended pregnancies, it is all the more critical that we fight for laws supporting pregnant women, new mothers and their children. Recently, Dina Bakst, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance, wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times about the need to guarantee workplace accommodations, such as bathroom breaks or a stool to sit on, for pregnant women to keep them healthy and on the job. She highlighted the discrimination pregnant women endure in the workplace and how existing law, as interpreted by the courts, has done little to prevent it. Guaranteeing reasonable accommodations for pregnant women is a common-sense policy that would help millions of women and their children, especially those who are economically vulnerable, while costing employers very little. A Better Balance is advancing the rights of working families with other policies as well, like paid family leave and paid sick days, which would provide economic security to mothers and others while they provide critical care to their families. We are also fighting discrimination against workers with family responsibilities, promoting flexible work alternatives, and encouraging wage disclosure as a means to combat the motherhood wage gap. These are the laws that working families today need and deserve.

While we celebrate women’s history this month, and how far we’ve come, this latest “War on Women” reminds us how easily history repeats itself and how far we have still to go. Not only must we fight the recent attacks on women’s reproductive rights, but we must also protect every woman’s right to participate equally in our nation’s economy, both as woman and as a mother.

Our nations’ women and families deserve no less.

This post is part of the International Women's Day blog carnival in partnership with Ms. Foundation for Women.

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