Motherhood definitely has a way of opening your eyes to the challenges that parents around you have been working their way through. For many of us, this revelation inspires us to advocate for better parental rights however we can.
But for United States Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who is set to be the first senator to give birth while serving in office, affecting positive change is already part of her job description—and she now plans to direct attention on improving workplace conditions for mothers.
Speaking on Politico’s Women Rule podcast this week, the Democrat from Illinois says she’s already running into archaic rules within Congress that aren’t conducive to working mothers like her. She says, “I'm even being told right now that I can't technically take maternity leave because if I take maternity leave, then I won't be allowed to sponsor legislation or vote during that time period.”
Duckworth ran into some challenges when she welcomed her first daughter, Abigail, when she was serving in the House of Representatives—but the question of maternity leave had been sorted thanks to congresswomen before her who gave birth during their terms. (Her current plan is to take leave, but show up for any significant votes.)
Now in the Senate and expecting another child in April, Duckworth’s more dedicated than ever to changing conditions for working moms.
First on her list: Dealing with the rule that prohibits children from the Senate floor.
“If I have to vote, and I'm breastfeeding my child, especially during my maternity leave period, what do I do? Leave her sitting outside?” she says. “I can't leave her with a staff member. That's a conflict of interest, so am I allowed to vote? Can I not do my job?”
These questions have already been posed in governments (and workplaces) around the world—and solutions are possible.
Take, for example, Australia, where senators recently voted to change the rule that barred infants from the chambers of Parliament. After helping lead that charge, that enabled Queensland Senator Larissa Waters to be the first to breastfeed in the chambers.
Or look at New Zealand, where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is currently expecting her first child and making sure plans are in place that will allow her to take maternity leave.
In the United States, the good news, Duckworth says, is that she seems to have a lot of support. “I think we've all been hungering for something non-partisan,” she says, explaining her pregnancy news seemed to be unifying. She adds she hopes her influence will make it so “legislators behind me can continue to do their jobs but also look after their families."
Although she’s just talking about changing the rules within Congress at this point, Duckworth is an advocate for many more maternal rights.
As she says in an editorial for CNN, where she outlines the legislation on the table that will improve the lives of parents:
Over the past few months, I’ve been reflecting about how those of us who are members of Congress are lucky. When my new daughter is born, I’ll be able to take paid time to care for her, but most people aren’t so fortunate; they have to rush right back to work. A 2015 report from In These Times found that one in four employed moms returned to work within two weeks of childbirth. We need to do what we can to change that and make it easier for new parents to stay in the workforce.
This all proves that when we have more mothers in power, more mothers can be empowered.