Lady Justice holding an imbalanced scale.
Katayoun Alidadi recently launched Bryant’s “Gender and the Law” course, which reviews the history of social and economic battles over gender and gender-relevant issues from a legal lens. She notes that individuals can look at every legal issue from a women’s rights lens.
From pay gaps to abortion, women’s legal rights face an ongoing battle
Mar 29, 2024, by Emma Bartlett
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From securing voting rights in 1920 to the passage of Title IX in 1972, women have taken monumental steps to ensure American legislation includes and protects them.

“You can look at every legal issue from a women’s rights lens,” says Katayoun Alidadi, Ph.D., associate professor of Legal Studies in the department of Politics, Law, and Society.

Alidadi recently launched Bryant’s “Gender and the Law” course, which reviews the history of social and economic battles over gender and gender-relevant issues from a legal lens. Topics include everything from the women’s rights movement to policy issues with voting rights, affirmative action, reproductive rights, sexual harassment, and more.

“We need to be aware of the challenges that exist surrounding gender,” Alidadi says. “It’s especially important to understand the advocacy process and procedure because women’s rights are an area where positions shift — even among women’s rights groups — and can result in changes to the law.”

Locating workplace discrimination

Alidadi notes that pregnancy discrimination is an issue that still exists in today’s workforce. Even though the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was enacted in 1978, research from the Bipartisan Policy Center shows that one in five women experience pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. In 2023, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act went into effect and required companies to provide accommodations — such as access to water, closer parking, flexible hours, and additional bathroom breaks — to pregnant individuals.

She adds that pregnant women are viewed as less professional or less dedicated to their jobs. People may question if they can be competitive in the workplace or, conversely, if they can be good mothers since they’re focusing on their career, Alidadi adds.

“For many women, it’s unlikely that they're going to get a promotion while pregnant or right after,” Alidadi says.

With pregnancy, there will be times that a woman has to step back, and Alidadi says companies need to look at their policies and ensure women are given opportunities to stay engaged. Creating a rigid work environment can result in women leaving their job or industry.

“We lose if we exclude women,” Alidadi says, noting their value to the workforce.

Glaring pay gaps

According to Forbes’ gender pay gap statistics, women on average are making 16 percent less than men, though Bryant’s women-identifying graduates have closed this earnings gap to 4 percent, and the university is committed to helping them narrow it to zero. The news outlet also reported that a 20-year-old woman starting a full-time, year-round career stands to lose $407,760 over a 40-year career compared to her male counterpart.

“The pay gap we’re seeing is probably not going to disappear,” Alidadi says, noting that it will take a lot of work to lower it further.

She says the gap is due, in part, to sex segregated employment where women are choosing to go into roles that are not as high paying but champion flexibility, which allows them to tend to their children and families. In some male-dominated industries, women may be hesitant in entering that field because they don’t want to be the lone woman.

Outside the public sphere, Alidadi adds that household dynamics — where women are still managing the bulk of household chores — is affecting the pay gap.

“As long as you don't have that equality in the private sphere, you're not going to get rid of this pay gap,” Alidadi says.

Finding a voice

Alidadi notes that the women’s rights movement has been instrumental in helping women access the same economic, social, and legal protections as their male counterparts, however, it has not achieved all its goals due to opposition and a lack of cohesion; there are different types of feminists — such as egalitarian feminists who believe men and women should have equal rights, opportunities, and treatment to moralists who believe in redefining ethics by focusing on women’s experiences and challenging traditional norms — who all want different things and form alliances with various organizations.

“If you think about it, more than 50 percent of voters are women, so if you can rally women behind any proposal, you're going to win; yet we see so much unfriendly legislation toward women,” Alidadi says.

The overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022 is one of those unfriendly pieces of legislation, Alidadi says. In response to the Supreme Court ruling, states are proposing new bills to protect healthcare providers. Locally, state legislatures have introduced the Health Care Provider Shield Act to protect healthcare workers who provide abortion or reproductive justice services and gender-affirming care in Rhode Island, and sometimes out-of-state women. Alidadi — in collaboration with Kelly Nevins, CEO of the Women's Fund of Rhode Island — is teaching students about the bill currently before the RI legislature while helping them understand the process and procedure of lobbying at the state level and connecting with lawmakers.

Countering stereotypes

From taking on roles in the military and law enforcement to debunking myths that women can’t run marathons because they won’t be able to bear children, Alidadi says upcoming generations of women have more role models and representation than ever.

“We’ve come such a long way, but there are more barriers to overcome,” Alidadi says. “We must continue to ask ourselves: What do we want? What is the goal and where should we focus our efforts going forward?”

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