This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah lawmakers will be given the opportunity this legislative session to pass a package of women's rights laws. Although the bills backed by the Utah Women's Coalition would only be a small step toward gender equality, at least our state has the opportunity to take a step in the right direction. Men, please ask the women in your lives about the obstacles they face in the community and at work. Ask women if they worry about breastfeeding in the workplace or in public. Ask women about the sex or pay discrimination they face at work. Ask women if they stress about losing their jobs or income because their employer doesn't offer paid maternity leave.
In 1776, upon hearing American independence had finally been proclaimed, Abigail Adams wrote to John Adams, "In the new Code of Law … remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors …. " Although we have come a long way since our country's beginning, we have been slow to adopt the necessary protections and accommodations to provide women with equal opportunities.
Women didn't receive legal protections from employment discrimination until 1964, when President John F. Kennedy signed the Civil Rights Act into law. In 1974, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act finally allowed single, widowed or divorced women to get a loan without a male cosigner. And pregnant women could be dismissed from their jobs simply for becoming pregnant until the Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed in 1978.
Despite these gains, women are still underrepresented in business and government. They are forced out of the workforce due to a lack of paid family leave. They are not provided legal protections against certain forms of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Businesses can still ask women to leave their establishments simply for breastfeeding their children. And women are still paid less than men for equal work.
Working mothers face difficult decisions when it comes to supporting their families. Many new mothers find that they must choose between breastfeeding and keeping their jobs.
Recent data from the Utah Department of Health shows that 20 percent of Utah mothers stopped breastfeeding their babies because they had to return to work or school. And women who are able to express breast milk at work often encounter unsuitable conditions for doing so, such as being directed to pump milk for their newborn in an unsanitary bathroom stall.
Breastfeeding is a natural part of the reproductive process that is beneficial to both the mother and the child. While the majority of Utahan women support breastfeeding, businesses are slow to adapt.
Many women are too familiar with the difficult routine of hauling their baby in and out of the car seat, packing diapers and the other necessities and getting their other kids to cooperate. The last thing a mother needs is a business owner who asks her to leave because she is making other customers feel uncomfortable. Women should be able feel safe feeding their children in public without discrimination.
Utah is often ranked as one of the worst states for women, but we can change that. If you or a friend, family member, colleague, or loved one has faced any challenges mentioned above, please offer your support in any way you can. Email your representatives and ask them to support any legislation aimed at improving Utah women's lives. Use social media to express your support for Utah women. Talk about these issues at the dinner table, at work and at school. Above all, ask the women in your lives how you can help support them.
John Driggs is a Salt Lake City attorney and women's rights activist.