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Shay Chan Hodges's picture

The following post, with minor modifications, was first featured in the Honolulu Star Advertiser as an op-ed last week, right before Hawaii’s state primary.  The first sentence of the editorial read:  "As this primary season comes to an end..."  

But the primary season did not end on Saturday as Hurricane Iselle hit parts of the state, impacting the ability of some residents to cast their ballots.

So one polling location will open this Friday to serve those who were not able to vote, but it's still unclear whether they will truly be able to exercise their rights as citizens because many of them still lack water, power, and even food.

While I knew that a hurricane could hit our island when I submitted the op-ed, I of course had no idea what the impact would be on our elections and our families.  And when I now look at photos of roofless homes, fallen trees, and Big Island residents lined up for meals and to charge their cellphones, one of the final sentences in the op-ed takes on more meaning:  

"Significantly, the word “economy” comes from the ancient Greek, oikos, meaning household."

As we contemplate the devastation in Puna, Hawaii, and consider its impact on families and the local and state economies, it is very clear to me that whether we are referring to physical, political, community, or family infrastructures, it is time to prioritize the "household" -- from the ground-up so to speak -- in our political and economic decision-making.

I realize that issues like work flexibility or pay equity will not feel very relevant this week for those who are simply trying to access basic necessities, and more mothers in office could not have stopped a hurricane.  However, I strongly believe that expanding our elected bodies to include a diversity of thought, experiences, talent, and expertise will strengthen the infrastructure of our political processes and thus the ability of our households to withstand external pressures.

And so here is my op-ed one week later, with the same first sentence, but slightly different meaning.  

As this primary season comes to an end, fostering a thriving economy is once again a key talking point.  Yet the significance of women making up half the workforce and 40% of breadwinners, while continuing to be the primary household caretakers, has mostly been absent from political discourse in the 2014 campaigns.

On June 23rd, I attended the White House Summit on Working Families, where President Obama and the First Lady came together with other leaders and parents to address the impacts of inflexible and unsupportive work cultures on families and businesses.

My buddy at the Summit was Valerie Young from the National Association of Mothers’ Centers, who recently posted in the Shriver Report

“I’m passionately committed to the notion that our Congress and our state governments should be run by women as well as men...When mothers engage in public policy, it absolutely makes a difference in what problems are tackled, the priority in which they are placed, and the variety of potential solutions considered, debated and implemented.”

The context for Valerie’s post was finding more than a few campaign brochures in her Maryland mailbox from candidates who were not only women, but mothers who cited parenthood as evidence of their ability to effectively serve their communities – and working families in particular.

I have not seen a similar phenomenon on Maui.  In fact, I was at a political fundraiser recently where out of a dozen county and state candidates, only one was a woman, and possibly two had school-age children.

Thus, it’s not surprising that despite White House efforts to raise visibility for family issues, I have heard little from Hawaii campaigns about the daily challenges facing island families with children: pay inequity, inadequate paid sick days and family leave, inflexible workplaces, and shortages of affordable childcare.  And yet many candidates do have some experience with these situations.

For my iBook, Lean On and Lead, Mothering and Work in the 21st Century Economy, I interviewed several Hawaii office-holders who spoke about their work and family choices.

Senator Brian Schatz discussed how his family balanced work and continuing education: “Linda’s doctorate took about seven years to complete because she had a few stops and starts along the way.  We had our second child, Mia, during her second year at architecture school.  She took a several month break after Mia was born and then went back to school.  Since she now had two very young kids, she stayed very focused.”

And Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa talked about hard choices working women make:  “It also takes time to build this kind of career -- to consistently show that you can perform… One of the ways these choices cost women is that we end up putting off having a family…[On the other hand,] I recently met with some women who talked about how unfair it is that after a woman has spent a few decades raising a family, if she wants to re-enter the workforce or enter it for the first time, employers are not interested in women who are older.”

Significantly, the word “economy” comes from the ancient Greek, oikos, meaning household.  As a working parent – a member of a critical voting bloc – I am glad there are at least four mothers in our legislature with a view from “the trenches” of the inherent conflicts of raising a family while earning a living:  Senators Jill Tokuda and Maile Shimabukuro and Representatives Della Au Belatti and Mele Carroll. 

For Hawaii’s elected leaders to truly begin to discuss and address these issues, however, we need many more working mothers in office who understand -- from their fundamentally unique perspective -- that a thriving economy relies on the stability and successes of our island families.    

Recent news about the hurricane devastation and election in Puna, Hawaii.

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