These Women in Politics Are Breaking Barriers and Demanding Equality

Democratic rising star Tammy Duckworth made headlines when she took her baby girl, Maile Pearl, onto the Senate floor for a vote. The Illinois senator didn’t get there easily, though.

Duckworth had to fight out the details of her maternity leave and return to Congress with a legislative body that wasn’t used to the idea that senators can get pregnant and give birth while serving their terms. She’s part of a growing body of women in politics who are, in the words of her House colleague Maxine Waters, “reclaiming [their] time.”

The face of U.S. politics — long an old boys’ club — is changing as an influx of women from a variety of backgrounds all around the country run for office. Along the way, these women are bringing up some issues that men in power have never really had to confront before — and they’re breaking boundaries in the process.

Senator Duckworth’s concern was not just the desire for parental leave, but also the need to attend floor votes. Children weren’t allowed on the floor of the Senate, something she argued made it impossible to her to participate. Her female colleagues agreed, pushing for a vote that ended up being unanimous — despite the specter of diaper changes on the Senate floor.

While much has been made of how this change will benefit Duckworth and future women, it’s really beneficial to everyone — regardless of gender. After all, Senate men have children too. And most parents in politics have struggled with the work/life balance involved in serving on Capitol Hill while children grow up back home. This rule change is equal opportunity, and hopefully men will take advantage of it.

Speaking of childcare, a House candidate in New York is going up against the Federal Election Commission with a claim that childcare is a valid campaign expense. Liuba Grechen Shirley argues that she wouldn’t need childcare if she wasn’t running for office — which means that her campaign should be paying for it. Grechen Shirley’s attempt could pave the way for other women running for office; given the high cost of childcare, it can be a significant barrier to participation in public life. Notably, several men have had success with this argument in the past.

Congress is a particularly difficult environment for families and parents of all genders. While it has fallen upon women to address this issue, everyone stands to benefit. The fight for childcare and the right to parent in the halls of Congress could also have a spillover effect: Universal childcare should be available for everyone in the United States who wants it, for example.

Women are also leading the charge on reforming sexual harassment policies in the Senate, though they’ve recently been joined by some of their male colleagues. This work extends not just to lawmakers, but also to support staff and other personnel working on the Hill — a reminder that people in subordinate positions can be very vulnerable to sexual harassment, while having little power to fight back.

Women in the Senate have also fought for bathroom access, the right to use the pool and numerous other amenities – including accessibility, another issue of vital importance to Duckworth. While some of these issues may seem minor, they’re important for women struggling to be treated equally, and with respect. Having to hunt for a bathroom is unacceptable, while being relegated to the decrepit gym or being excluded from rooms used for social gatherings is a constant reminder of lesser social status.

Here’s hoping that the new influx of women entering politics continues the legacy, working to promote gender equality within Congress and throughout the rest of the country.

Photo credit: AFGE

35 comments

Marie W
Marie W2 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Kristen S
Kristen Siconolfi5 months ago

Amazing!

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Janis K
Janis K5 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Ellen J
E Away J5 months ago

Thanks. Good article. Let us hope Congress comes into at least the 20th century, if not the 21st.

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ANA MARIJA R
ANA MARIJA R5 months ago

Very nice to see this! Made my day!💕 Bravo and thank you to all brave women around the world (and to all men whos supported us on many ways).

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Tania N
Tania N5 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Tania N
Tania N5 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Tania N
Tania N5 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Mary B
Mary B5 months ago

The notion that these rich old white men can't handle a diaper being changed on the senate floor cracks me up. Hope she hands her over to one of them for a few moments while she gets back in her wheel chair and the infants promptly pukes all over him . Hope it's Mitch McConnell . And Yes, let's do get day care covered for all working parents. If these men haven't addressed this BY NOW, they are either too rich or too stupid to be in any position of power.

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Marsha McCroden
Marsha McCroden5 months ago

I can sort of understand the senators reaction. Its been an old boys club for too long and they know they are looking at the future. They're scared.

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