Working moms’ fight for better, more balanced lives isn’t restricted to the nation’s offices and retail stores. After the results of November’s U.S. election, it’s also a major topic of discussion in the halls of Congress.
As noted in an article from Politico, 102 women were elected in the midterm polling—a new record.
“The influx is forcing lawmakers to reassess policies to make Capitol Hill more female- and parent-friendly,” the article said. “Renovations are already underway to install nursing stations around the Capitol. And there’s talk among Democratic women about how to best arrange the congressional schedule so that parents can video chat with their kids over dinner, help them with their school work, and make it home three days a week.”
Those kinds of issues likely sound familiar to working mothers across the nation and around the world. The scope and scale of the challenges may vary for people in different situations, but the basic needs remain the same.
To help mothers who are new to Congress, Rep. Deborah Wasserman Schultz, D-FL, plans to create an informal “Moms in the House” caucus. According to an article from Broadly, she is hoping to push for changes that will help mothers continue to make family a top priority, even as they serve.
“Wasserman Schultz has already reached out to California Representative-elect Katie Porter, Virginia Representative-elect Abigail Spanberger, and Florida Representative-elect Debbie Mucarsel-Powell—all of whom have three children—to offer advice on how to navigate their new lives as both congresswomen and mothers,” the Broadly article says. “Wasserman Schultz and other incoming female members of Congress have also begun developing plans to request that Democratic leadership in the House not schedule any votes past 6:30 p.m., which can drive up child care costs for parents and put a strain on breastfeeding mothers.”
Not all members of Congress have young children, of course, but the number who do is rising. Along with that change in demographics of the nation’s lawmakers has come alteration to some of the rules and facilities in the Capitol.
The Politico article says the architect of the Capitol is trying to make the grounds ready for more women—for example, by adding baby changing tables in members-only bathrooms.
“I think there are a lot of people who are talking about…how we can make it easier for new moms and single moms,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-WA, in the Politico article. “These women are looking at what they need as new moms or moms of middle school kids, what kinds of rules would accommodate that. …[We] recognize that women are a new and growing force in this Congress.”
Despite their growing numbers, the moms in the House and Senate don’t always have an easy time bringing about changes. Like mothers in other workplaces, they face particular difficulty in pushing for more consistent and certain schedules.
“Some of the incoming lawmakers and incumbent women are discussing whether to press leadership to keep lawmakers in Washington no more than four days a week, to allow them more time with their children back in the districts,” the Politico article says. “Republicans usually kept the schedule to four days, but with the change in power in Washington, some Democrats may be eager to keep members in town for longer, as Republicans did when they took control of the White House in 2017.”
Other changes may come a bit more easily. For example, Jennifer Lawless, a politics professor at the University of Virginia, says in the Broadly article that “she expects incoming Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar—one of the first Muslim women ever to be elected to Congress—will have no problem passing an amendment to House rules that would allow her to wear her headscarf to work.”
“The issue here is that the rules don’t change until someone needs them to,” Lawless says in the article. “The good news is that we now have the kind of diversity that requires these rule changes. It really highlights how archaic some of these rules are and how long it’s taken to generate the beginnings of the diversity we would expect from the U.S. Congress.”
This could also be good news for working mothers in general. As more attention is paid to the issues they face in the Capitol, that could translate into legislation that helps moms elsewhere in the workforce. After all, archaic rules are common in the business world, too. Fortunately, people everywhere are trying to change that, and it’s a positive sign that the effort is now starting at the top.
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