Over the course of Women’s History Month — and especially on International Women’s Day — our social media feeds are flooded with posts dedicated to women. Universities share stories of well-known female graduates or professors, and politicians give shout-outs to the “strong women” in their lives. While it can be exciting to see women given credit for their contributions to society, these posts as a whole are generally misguided and severely lacking in actual effects on women’s rights and equality. This year for Women’s History Month, instead of more posts “honoring the women in our lives,” I want real policy changes that create tangible and lasting impacts for gender equality — namely, mandated paid parental leave for men and women.
There are currently no federal laws in the United States that mandate paid parental leave for men or women. Policy decisions on paid parental leave have been left to the states, only 11 of which (plus Washington, D.C.) have enacted laws to guarantee paid family leave. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2022, only 24-27 percent of workers had access to paid family leave.
Even at Cornell, graduate students are only provided an option for six weeks of paid parental leave. While it’s an improvement over federal mandates — or the lack thereof — Cornell’s policy still lags far behind the progressive accommodations women and families in other countries receive. In Sweden, for example, parents receive a combined 480 days of paid parental leave, with each parent encouraged to take at least 90 of those days.
But why is paid parental leave a women’s rights issue in the first place?
The American Psychological Association argues that paid parental leave benefits mothers, fathers and children. Paid leave improves the physical and mental health of both mother and child, decreases overall poverty risk of the family and increases parental relationship stability. Furthermore, paid parental leave for men creates more opportunities for parent-infant bonding, which in turn generates brain activity in fathers that is linked to the same parental instincts often associated only with mothers. Children of parents who receive paid parental leave face lower infant mortality rates, increased cognitive development, improved lifelong mental health and stronger language acquisition. The consensus is that paid parental leave benefits all members of the family while simultaneously redistributing the responsibilities of childrearing from landing traditionally on women’s shoulders to becoming a joint effort between parents.
Women throughout history have fought for the right to receive an education and participate in the economy in a manner equal to their male counterparts. Unfortunately, societal norms have not always advanced at the same rate. In today’s world, we often expect women to do it all. Society frowns at stay-at-home moms or women who prioritize their careers over family, while at the same time offering no reprieve for women who attempt to balance both.
Every year that we celebrate Women’s History Month with generic social media posts and empty promises of equality instead of enacting policy that genuinely supports women is another year that we do a great disservice to modern women, as well as those throughout history who fought for the rights we have now. It’s time for nationwide policies that allow men and women to share the load of transitioning to parenthood without the additional burden of going unpaid. It’s time for paid parental leave for all parents.
Halle Swasing ‘24 is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected] Goes Without Swasing runs every other Sunday this semester.