Why "Lead On Leave" Matters to Reproductive Justice Activism

In April of this year, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and White House senior advisor and Chair of White House Council on Women and Girls, Valerie Jarrett, announced the launch of their paid leave advocacy tour, "Lead On Leave: Empowering Working Families Across America." The goal for the tour was to promote and advocate for paid leave policies in work environments across the nation, and to educate the public on how these policies can positively affect our economy. The tour kicked off in the city of Seattle but soon made its way to Atlanta. There to address a room full of non-profit and for profit organizations, community leaders, employers and employees of various businesses in Atlanta were Mayor Kasim Reed and Valerie Jarrett. Jane Smith, the Executive Director of LEADS at Spelman College, joined the armchair conversation as the moderator.

Women Engaged found this to be an important tour because we understand too many working class families are having to make difficult compromises that they shouldn't have to make. I'm sure we've all heard friends, loved ones, or even ourselves say, "Maybe I can make this month's birth control last by taking one every other day instead of daily" or "It's only been two weeks since I had my baby but I just can't stay out of work any longer." These are concerns that people shouldn't have to stress about in a culture that values wellness of working families. Family leave is a reproductive justice issue.

Under Mayor Kasim Reed's leadership, all City of Atlanta employees have paid family leave as of July 1st, 2015. This is an important political move being that there are other city government officials who have yet to realize how valuable this policy is to employers and  employees alike. With more than 8,000 women in Atlanta not covered by paid leave, organizers and activists in the Atlanta community are interested to see how this model will be implemented in sites of employment across the city, as well as the nation.

Furthermore, it's important to recognize that the idea of "family" in these discussions of policy take into consideration the many ways given and chosen families can exist. Queer families and the resources they need are often left out of the heteronormative, nuclear family frame that doesn't really exist for many of us. So, the issue of paid leave is not only a matter of wage and reproductive justice but also an important issue of queer and trans rights, as well. When families are left to leave their sick babies at home so that they can make enough money to give them the care they need, they are not functioning in a healthy work environment. Their emotional and mental wellness are compromised for the sake of an institution. As working -class citizens whose labor is not being compensated in such a tangible, real way, this is a huge disservice. Mayor Reed's announcement and the "Lead on Leave" Tour are important steps but we know there is much more work to be done.

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