March 8 marks International Women's Day, a day when we celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievement of women. And yet it cannot be denied that hard work remains in reaching full equality. One such obstacle is that of inaccessible paid family leave for new parents, and for American families, the issue is pressing. The U.S. remains one of only two countries in the world without a national maternity leave policy. So I thought it would be useful to highlight ways to fight for paid family leave. Until, of course, I realized I didn't know where to begin.
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is the executive director and CEO of MomsRising, an organization committed to increasing family economic security and decreasing discrimination. She has been involved in public policy and grassroots engagement for more than 20 years and has a long list of honors to show for it. She is also an award-winning author and her new book, Keep Marching: How Every Woman Can Take Action And Change Our World, comes out May 1.
Rowe-Finkbeiner graciously took some time to chat with Romper about how to make a difference and, apparently, there's some good news: if you're looking for ways to fight for paid family leave, you're not alone and you don't have to start anything! There's already a loud chorus of voices calling out for this necessary change, and they're making progress.
"We're seeing the voices of women and moms move mountains and move health policy in this area of paid family/medical leave at the city level, at the county level, at the state level, and mountains are even moving at the federal level," Rowe-Finkbeiner told Romper via phone. "And all you have to do is raise your voice."
Share Your Story
"Everyone has a story about paid family/medical leave, or not having paid family/medical leave," Rowe-Finkbeiner says. "Each of those stories has an incredible impact on elected officials when they're making decisions... Or you could write a letter to the editor of your local paper."
This seems so simple, and yet it hadn't occurred to me that, yes, just talking about how this issue personally touches or has touched your life can make a difference. Maybe your thinking-about-getting-pregnant co-worker doesn't know your company has a really terrible family leave policy. Maybe your cousin doesn't realize that your lingering medical complications are rooted in having to go back to work soon after delivery. Or maybe sharing a positive experience will inspire your business-owning friend to look more critically at the policies they have for their own workers.
Like so many issues that predominantly affect women, this is one that doesn't always find its way into the spotlight. Opening up about your story can start the discussion and help to change that.
Get Your Facts Straight
Part of why this is an issue is because many people don't know it's an issue. "Only 15 percent of people in the U.S. have access to some form of paid family medical leave through their work," Rowe-Finkbeiner tells Romper. "And only six percent of low-wage workers do."
While the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 requires employers to provide 12 weeks of leave for qualified medical and family reasons (including childbirth and adoption), this is unpaid time off (an impossibility for many) and approximately 40 percent of employers are exempted from the law.
"Many people think that the Family Medical Leave Act of 25 years ago is paid, and they don't realize until that catastrophic moment that this is an unpaid leave situation," says Row-Finkbeiner. "This policy isn't actually here yet and that's abnormal compared to the rest of the world."
Remind People Of What's At Stake
In addition to better health outcomes for infants and mothers, mental health outcomes for mothers, and increased rates of breastfeeding, paid family leave also provides economic benefits for families and promotes gender equity. "Paid family medical leave is central to women's equality," Rowe-Finkbeiner points out. "Right now, being a mom is a greater predictor of wage and hiring discrimination than being a woman. When you have access to paid family medical leave, and particularly when dads take it too, those wage gaps go down significantly. So this isn't just a fight to save mother's and baby's lives, or to be there for our parents and close family members in drastic times — it's also a fight for women's pay equality."
Let Your Representatives Know That This Issue Is Important To You
Remember, your elected officials work for you and are meant to be working on the issues that matter to you. To be fair, though, they can't know what matters to you if you don't tell them. You can do this by letter or email, but it's generally best to call. (If you don't know who your representatives are, this site can guide your federal, state, and local leaders.)
"If you can make a phone call to your state elected leaders and say 'Hey, can you please pass paid family medical leave at the state level,' that has an impact," Rowe-Finkbeiner tells Romper.
Get Your Friends Involved
"If you can get 10 of your friends to make that call, too, that has an even bigger impact," Rowe-Finkbeiner says.
That's just math, you guys.
Get Involved With Organizations Already Doing The Work
"There's a lot of organizations out there," Rowe-Finkbeiner tells Romper. "Their mission is to find ways to make your voice heard ... and saving you the research." MomsRising, National Partnership for Women and Families, and PL+US, among others, all operate at the national level, but it pays to think locally, too. Towns across America have their own grassroots initiatives, and many of the people involved also work for state-wide women's groups who may already have a paid family/medical leave agenda in the works.
"If you join with an organization," Rowe-Finkbeiner says, " your voice is joining with tens of thousands of others at the local level and hundreds of thousands at the federal level."
Let People Know We Don't Have To Break New Ground
Again, because it's worth repeating over and over and over again: the United States is one of two countries that doesn't have a national family leave policy! So if anyone tries to say, "Oh gee, we'd love to but we just don't even know how to go about it" call their bluff! Rowe-Finkbeiner tells Romper, "We don't have to be a test program! Other countries have [paid family/medical leave policies]. We know it works, we just have to turn it on!"
TUESDAY, NOV. 6, 2018! WRITE IT DOWN!
I know it's a midterm election and those aren't nearly as flashy as the presidential elections whose campaigns go on for about two years, but they're no less important. And go ahead and Google when your state and local elections are being held and vote in those, too.
Ultimately, the people who will make paid family leave a reality in this country are legislators, and it helps to have sympathetic legislators in office. The good news is that we pick who gets to be there. Find out where the candidates stand, ask how they plan to pursue the issue of family leave if elected, then vote (or even volunteer for) the people make it a priority.
If voting is all you can dedicate to this fight, that's still a pretty good contribution.
"All of these things add up," Rowe-Finkbeiner says. "You don't have to do them all. It's everybody doing a little bit of their part for what makes sense in their life that makes this cause move forward."
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.