Fair pay beats flowery bouquets — and other post-Mother's Day reflections

I spend every Mother’s Day I can with my mom — and there are, to be sure, fancy-pants meals and spring walks. But she and I both know the holiday was born out of less flowery sentiments, ushered into the world in part by a native New Yorker, poet, abolitionist and suffragist named Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) — yep, of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” fame. Her lesser-known “Mother’s Day Proclamation” of 1870 begins: Arise then … women of this day!/Arise, all women who have hearts!

Well, women have been rising up for some time now, securing the vote, breaking glass ceilings (go Mom!), transforming expectations and daily lives in ways Julia Ward Howe could barely have dreamed. But we’re not there yet. We can’t ignore the fact that women earn 78 cents for each dollar men make and that we pay more for everything from health insurance to haircuts. Or that women — especially single mothers (more than a quarter) — are more likely to live in poverty. Simply put: economic justice cannot exist without women’s economic equality, and poverty can’t be eradicated without fairer pay. We know that when women do well economically, their families benefit — so do their communities. This equation is so reliable that it’s now the foundation of anti-poverty programs in the developing world and here at home. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, global anti-poverty goals “depends fundamentally on the empowerment of women.”

So this Mother’s Day, I couldn’t help but think of all the great moms I know — including my own — and about how much better our society would be if it valued women and families through equal pay and family-friendly policies. Working women are still fighting tooth and nail just to be protected by laws enacted to prevent discrimination: Right now, the nation’s largest corporate employer is embroiled in the nation’s largest class-action lawsuit in American history. The company? Wal-Mart. The lawsuit? Gender discrimination and unfair pay. Late last month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco voted 6-5 to affirm a federal judge’s decision to award class-action status to potentially one million women or more.

I’d like to see the plaintiffs win. This decade. I’d like to see stronger safeguards and more stringent penalties for discrimination like those in the Paycheck Fairness Act. And I’d like to see certain talking heads in the Jewish community — particularly the ones who loudly lament the prospects for Jewish continuity — commit themselves publicly to Jewish families by supporting family-friendly policies in all of the organizations and institutions that make up the Jewish communal landscape. Yep. I’d like to see them supporting family leave policies and committing themselves to actively achieving women’s equal representation on all rungs of the Jewish organizational ladder, not just the bottom. (Pssst: It’s good for business! Workplaces with family leave policies have loyal workforces and more productive employees. It’s a win-win!) To this end, the group Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, as the Forward writes in its “Invest in Families” editorial,

is persuading, training, cajoling and exhorting American Jewish organizations to adopt family-friendly policies. The goal: 100 sign-ups in 2010. Since only 35% of Jewish communal organizations have paid maternity-leave policies, even though three-quarters of their workforce is female, reaching that goal would have tremendous significance.

And yes, you’re reading this post on the blog of an organization that has family friendly policies. Not enough organizations and companies do. Let’s hope that the AWP succeeds. Spread the word!

–Erica Brody.

This post was originally published here, on jspot.org.