Sisters join in asking Congress to support families with policy, not rhetoric

by Dawn Araujo-Hawkins

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In an open letter released today, an ecumenical group of female faith leaders are asking the U.S. Congress to do more to support families. The letter, addressed to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, calls politicians to task for espousing “pro-family rhetoric” while failing to implement policies that support women and families.

“As Christian, Jewish and Muslim women,” the letter reads, “we are inspired by diverse faith traditions that share a conviction that public policies must serve the dignity of the human person, support the family and promote the common good.”

Catholic sisters – including Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, and the entire leadership team of the Sisters of Mercy – were among those who signed the letter. Sr. Ann Scholz, a School Sister of Notre Dame, the associate director for social mission at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, who also signed the letter, told Global Sisters Report it was natural that sisters would show their support for pro-family polices just before a holiday honoring mothers.

“Quite honestly, this is a wonderful opportunity for us because it’s Mother’s Day, and because we’re women religious,” Scholz said. “Many of our congregations were founded to ensure that women and girls had an opportunity for education, for good health. So this flows naturally from who we are as women religious.”

The letter, signed by more than 50 women, urges Congressional support of two specific pieces of legislation: the Healthy Families Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

The former – first introduced in 2005 by Democrats Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts – would allow employees to accrue up to seven days of paid sick leave in order to take care of themselves, to take care of sick family members, or to take legal action following incidents of domestic violence or sexual assault.

Currently sponsored by DeLauro and Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, the bill is not currently expected to go to a vote in either the House or the Senate. However, three states and a wave of cities have already passed their own paid sick leave legislation.

Similarly, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act – which would make discrimination against pregnant workers illegal and would require employers to provide accommodations for them – has failed to gain national traction, but has found support on the state and local level. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, twelve states and two cities have passed pregnancy anti-discrimination laws.

However, Scholz said federal laws regulating paid sick leave and pregnancy discrimination are essential because state and local laws do not provide adequate protection for all Americans.

“If we rely on 50 different policies in 50 different states to guarantee that mothers have the chance to be mothers and to care for their children when they’re ill – or that women are protected during pregnancy … then we’re going to end up with a very uneven playing field, because each of the 50 states will end up with a different standard.”

The letter also addresses gender pay gap, nothing that women in the U.S. make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Though the letter largely centers on mothers, Scholz said fathers are just as important to the health of families, and that it was simply the timing of this letter that made it appropriate to highlight women’s issues.

“I think this is a great time to put out this kind of call to Speaker Boehner and Sen. Reid – to ensure that Mother’s Day is more than just roses and candy,” she said, “that it is about making sure we have policies in place that support mothers and their children – and their husbands.”

[Dawn Cherie Arajuo is a staff writer for GSR.]