Women Still On Short End Of Multiple Laws, Practices
“The family, in all its variety of forms, is the basic unit of society. Both the state and local authorities have various obligations to promote the well-being of every family, taking their differing needs and circumstances into consideration.”
-The Government of Iceland
On Nov. 20, 2020, the government of Iceland approved 12 months of family leave for parents of children born, adopted or permanently fostered, with each parent having the right to six months of leave and the ability of one parent to transfer one month to the other parent – allowing for one parent to take seven months while the other takes five months. This policy, which applies for the first 24 months of a child’s life, accompanies a policy that childcare from age 1-2 is subsidized, reduced from ages 2-5, and free as kids enter school at age 6, allowing Iceland to boast the highest employment rate of women in Europe. While there remains a nearly 20 percent pay gap between men and women, the number of women in the workforce is slightly lower than men because more women caregiving for children at any given time. Iceland is a nation with a high rate of parity between men and women. Thirty of the 62 government representatives are women. At least 40 percent of all boards must be female.
Contrast that with the opening scenes Period. End of Sentence, the 2018 Oscar-winning documentary from Netflix about rural Indian women’s access to sanitary products. Until community activists made it possible for girls to make their own pads, they were forced to stay home when they began menstruating. They stopped going to school. Religious leaders told them that God won’t hear their prayers while they are menstruating. In this enormous country where outhouses can be rare in some remote areas, women face a higher risk for sexual assault while using the restroom.
Astonishing how small a development, like access to sanitary products – or bathrooms for those of you who recall that scene in Hidden Figures – becomes a barrier to women in the workplace. In some countries, religious and cultural laws are the barriers. Khalid Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, captured a modern Afghanistan, with women in skirt suits working all manner of professions in the 1970s until fundamentalist religious sects decided to re-engineer Afghanistan into a religiously-idealized society and imposed laws that forced women to be covered – hair, neck, wrists and ankles. First females could only go to school separate from males, were not allowed to attend after puberty, and finally were, and recently, they are again restricted to their homes. They cannot see male doctors for health care, nor can they become doctors. Even women working in cosmetology have been shut down.
At present, women in the U.S. run the gamut regarding cultural, legal and practical norms. In bathrooms in Scotland and close to home, at Purdue, a woman can find free menstrual products, but that’s uncommon. Sanitary products are a constant ask for shelters and food banks because they’re taxed and costly.
On the bright side, in 2021 Indiana passed a law to ensure pregnant Hoosiers can ask for accommodations to continue working during pregnancy, but time off after remains prohibitive. The lower the educational attainment of new parents the less time (especially paid) off they’ll get off after delivering, adopting or fostering a child. Then there’s childcare. The World Economic Forum finds that the U.S. is in the top three most expensive places for childcare. It’s one of the biggest reasons that one parent drops out of the workforce – usually the woman, usually because she earns less. Where there is subsidized childcare and universal preschool, women’s participation in the workforce rises and local economies improve. A better income stabilizes the finances and emotional health of a household, reducing addiction and abuse, and children tend to grow up with a stronger “theory of mind” – the ability to better understand the thoughts, beliefs, desires and emotions of others. That leads to better social skills, higher educational attainment, and ability to work in larger organizations – as Purdue economist Victoria Prowse’s research demonstrates.
While the U.S. is generally stable with women re-entering the workforce, gaining more college degrees and inching toward a closed gender pay gap, there are yellow flags. Ambiguous legislation about women’s healthcare – so ambiguous that even pro-life people facing dangerous pregnancies are worried after last summer’s post-Dodd decision and the state-by-state bill mill experiments – has drawn back a curtain, revealing the wizard.
In Indiana, the wizard is Todd Rokita, who is only one of a dozen-plus state attorneys general, demanding that women’s health records from other states be made available to their offices. Rokita (who ‘compels’ his employees to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements – NDAs – other states do NOT require them) and the other AGs are asking for the right to investigate women who seek healthcare in another state. Women in Texas are suing to sort out the legally ambiguous language that has risked the lives of women and some of their fetuses. Meanwhile, OBGYNS now have to enter the state of Texas to pass their board certifications (risking arrest if they speak of doing D&Cs that might have saved lives.)
Then there’s access to birth control. Myths persist that some forms of birth control are abortifacients – that they terminate pregnancies. In fact, IUDs, Plan B (the morning-after pill), and regular birth control pills prevent fertilization, but national networks and organizations like Care.net (a national network of crisis pregnancy centers) have created lovely, glossy brochures messaging that birth control could be causing an abortion. (They also still promote the disproven notion that abortions are connected to breast cancer.) The message in the religiously conservative sphere that most or all birth control is potentially an abortifacient relies on a faulty line of reasoning that lacks evidence and is based on a possibility rather than certainty.
What’s worrisome are the machinations of people “behind the curtain.” Some are strategizing to charge women who terminate a pregnancy where it’s legal with homicide or murder when they return home. Some seek to cut off and further restrict to birth control and plan B.
Since the development of birth control, like that of sanitary napkins, women have been able to participate in work, pursue education and compete in sports, using their unique talents and gifts as engineers, teachers, nurses, managers, or they just helped their family survive by working the line at our local manufacturer.
Now is not the time to take for granted that women can and will be able to continue accessing what they need so they can best contribute to their households and communities. Now is the time to continue to let our leadership know all we need.
Correction from last week’s column on water transfer.
Last week’s column framed the water transfer as an agreement process between two counties. In fact, decisions made about water transfer are not up to Tippecanoe County but are being initiated and directed by IEDC, which is not a formal official part of state governmental structure, but rather “a public private partnership” as they define themselves: “The Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) is charged with growing the state economy, driving economic development, helping businesses launch, grow and locate in the state. Led by the Indiana Secretary of Commerce and governed by a 15-member board chaired by Governor Eric J. Holcomb. The IEDC is organized as a public private partnership and manages many initiatives, including performance-based tax credits, workforce training grants, innovation and entrepreneurship resources, public infrastructure assistance, and talent attraction and retention efforts.”
-The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan, multi-issue political organization which encourages informed and active participation in government. For information about the League, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org; or, visit the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, Indiana Facebook page.