This Mother’s Day, it is 50 weeks and three days that I am living without a mother, missing her every single day and so grateful for the drive and fight she instilled in me to demand an equal voice for myself and for all women. As the daughter of immigrants – a home-based seamstress and a coal miner who plied his trade as a stone mason on the weekends – my mother committed every waking moment to making our world better than she had it.
That’s all most of us want – the chance to build a better life for ourselves and our children. For my mother, born only nine years after women secured the vote in the U.S., a better life meant demanding equal rights for women. When I admitted at 23 that I had forgotten to vote, she gave me such an earful – and that piercing, disapproving look that every mother masters!
Today, the challenge of making sure young women vote continues, but that is not the only limit to their full participation as equals in society. Neither democracy nor equality can be sustained only at the ballot box. Women in the U.S. and around the world continue to struggle for equal pay, equal rights at work, and to stop the continuing violence and harassment that limit their ability to thrive.
Many argue that women are thriving by pointing to girls achieving equal or higher education levels than boys – UNESCO reports girls’ enrollment in tertiary education doubled between 1970 and 2009 – and to women dominating the growing export industries like apparel that so many countries rely on to fuel their industrialization and help pay down those never-ending World Bank loans. Yet women’s economic equality and access to security has not advanced at the same pace. Take, for example, these four classic Mother’s Day treats – clothing, dining out, chocolates, and pretty much any of the food we eat:
- Apparel: Over 60% of women garment workers interviewed in Bangalore, India have been intimidated or threatened with violence at work.
- Sunday Brunch: 90% of women who waitress, relying on tips to supplement subminimum wages, reported being bothered by sexual harassment from customers.
- Chocolates: In Cote d’Ivoire, the world’s largest exporter of cocoa, women own 25% of the cocoa plantations, but make up 68% of the labor force and earn only 21% of the income generated, according to the African Development Bank.
- Breakfast in bed: In California, 60% of 150 female farmworkers interviewed by researchers from U.C. Santa Cruz said they experienced sexual harassment in the fields.
The list could go on. Just check out ILRF and Corporación Cactus’ short video of children talking about how hard life is when their mothers work on flower farms in Colombia producing for the U.S. market.
Don’t be discouraged, however, or take this as an excuse to not treat your mom to something nice. Just know that so many working mothers are fighting to better the lives of their own children and to secure equality for themselves. Both of these things require that we secure women’s rights at work – their right to be free from violence and sexual harassment, their rights to organize a union and bargain collectively for decent wages and better working conditions (notably, women in unions earn 91 cents on the dollar that men earn while women not in unions earn 80 cents).
That’s why at the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) we are advocating for new standards to prevent violence against women at work. We’ve joined a new coalition, Women Workers Rising, to raise awareness and share the stories of women workers demanding equal pay, equal rights and an end to abuse at work. If you have a story to share about a woman’s struggle for justice in the workplace, please see the Call for Stories at WomenWorkersRising.org. The only way to stop the injustice is to expose it and put laws in place that drive prevention and bring perpetrators to justice. An important step in this direction is to ensure the current administration upholds the US government’s support for a new Convention on Violence Against Women and Men in the World of Work at the International Labour Organization. Such a Convention would require countries to monitor more closely and take steps to more effectively prevent gender-based violence at work.