Make Way for Duckworth
Issue   |   Tue, 01/30/2018 - 21:17

Make way for ducklings; on Jan. 23, Sen. Tammy Duckworth announced her pregnancy, making her the first sitting senator to ever give birth. Though she plans to take the 12 weeks paid leave that she guarantees her staffers, the announcement has sparked discussion about guaranteed maternity leave for federal employees in general. Senator Duckworth is the 51st woman to be elected to Senate — why is she the first to give birth while?

Tammy Duckworth was elected as the representative for Illinois’ Eighth Congressional District in 2012 and has been breaking glass ceilings since then. She served two terms in the House of Representatives and successfully ran for Senate in 2016. Only the second woman to become an Illinois senator, she was also the second Asian-American and the first disabled woman to be elected to the Senate. While serving as congresswoman, she gave birth to her first child, becoming the 10th woman ever to do so while in the House. Now she will be the first to give birth while in the Senate.

The federal government guarantees 12 weeks unpaid maternity leave, per the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, and many federal employees are only eligible for this minimum. The problem with this, of course, is the “un” before “paid.” Not all women can afford to take that time off, especially when you consider that raising a child does not take only 12 weeks and that the women are likely already being paid less than their male counterparts. Even a woman in a high-paying job could hesitate in the face of “12 weeks unpaid,” as those weeks only guarantee job security, not upward mobility. Three months off can mean the difference between a promotion and two more years of stagnation. It’s likely that a male colleague would get promoted instead.

Clearly, this is insufficient for the nearly 10 million women in high-stakes government jobs and seems even more insufficient when compared to employers like Google, which guarantee 18 weeks of paid leave.

While it is unlikely that the federal government could match the maternity leave of a successful private company like Google, it does not seem unreasonable to expect some level of paid family leave. Congress must act. Even Trump said during his campaign that “birth mothers” should be allowed six weeks of paid leave. This must be expanded to all parents, including foster parents and adoptive parents. As of now, the U.S. is the only country in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (which includes most Western nations) to not mandate paid maternity leave. According to the initial proposal of a failed bill introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Rosa DeLauro, 12 weeks paid family leave would cost a mere 0.2% of a taxpayer’s paycheck. A bill of this kind would cost little to the American public but reap massive benefits for parents everywhere.

I hope for a society where women will not have to choose between a family and a career. Senator Duckworth is lucky to have both, but all women deserve the chance for both a fulfilling career and a family.