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Elizabeth Warren deserves praise for speaking out on the huge global issue of maternity discrimination

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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According to recent research, one in nine mothers in the US have said that they were fired because they were pregnant. Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren is one of them.

When Elizabeth Warren was 22 she became pregnant with her first child.

At the time, the presidential hopeful and Democratic senator was working as a teacher in a public school, a job that she adored. And yet when she told her boss that she was pregnant she says she was “shown the door” at the end of the school year. 

Losing her job changed Warren’s life, setting her on the path to becoming a politician. Her love of education never left her, though. A major component of her presidential platform is universal education funded by her Ultra-Millionaire Tax, which would ensure that college would be free for hundreds of thousands of Americans. 

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Warren has told the story of losing her job several times over the years. She’s written about it in her book, she’s spoken about it in interviews, she’s given speeches about it along the campaign trail. And everywhere she goes she is discredited. Largely, the pushback has come from far-right politicians and news organisations such as Fox News, who have said that there is no evidence that Warren was fired expressly for being pregnant. 

Today, The Washington Free Beacon published records from a meeting held by Warren’s employer the Riverdale Board of Education, in which the board notes Warren’s resignation “was accepted with regret”. According to the publication, two months before Warren gave her notice the board had approved a second part-time teaching contract for the educator. 

Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren.

Warren’s stance on this pushback is clear. “All I know is I was 22 years old, six months pregnant, and the job I had been promised for the next year was going to someone else,” she told CBS. “The principal said they were going to hire someone else for my job.”

    The Washington Free Beacon’s report, such as it is, has been largely met with scepticism. “C’mon,” political writer Laura Bassett wrote on Twitter. “What county would ever write in their records ‘fired for being pregnant’?” 

    “This is why I think ‘believe women’ is so powerful – beyond sexual harassment and assault,” added writer Jessica Valenti on Twitter. “Official records don’t often tell the full story when it comes to what’s happened in women’s lives; that’s why we need to listen to them.”

    “By the way it’s 2019 and women are still told to hide their pregnancies or plans to get pregnant from prospective employers,” Valenti continued.

    Maternity discrimination is real, and we should be praising Warren for speaking out about it. We should believe her.

    In the US, research suggests that 11% of women – or one in nine mothers – were fired or “made compulsorily redundant” because they were pregnant. That percentage could number as many as 54,000 women who have lost their jobs on account of maternity discrimination, a figure on par with recent statistics in the UK.

    What’s more, one in five mothers in the US have revealed that they have experienced harassment or negative comments in relation to their pregnancy or requests for flexible working. Some 10% of women stated that their employers expressly discouraged them from attending necessary doctor’s appointments and antenatal services. Recently, five women spoke to Stylist about their shocking experiences of maternity discrimination at work.

    Six in 10 employers believe a woman should have to state whether she is pregnant during the recruitment process

    We have the statistics. We have the research. We have the women who share their stories and experiences of maternity discrimination. So why is it so hard for some people to believe Warren when she says that she was fired because she was pregnant?

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    Maternity discrimination was happening in 1971 when Warren says she was “shown the door” when she was six months pregnant. And it’s happening now, with some 54,000 women every year losing their jobs because of it.

    Until we believe women like Warren when they come forward, how are we ever going to make inroads on ending maternity discrimination in the long run? 

    Images: Getty

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    Hannah-Rose Yee

    Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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