5 Jul 2013

Hawaii strengthens laws protecting women's and children's rights

5:53 pm on 5 July 2013

The Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women says the recent strengthening of laws to protect the rights of women and children, shows law-makers are listening to what the community wants.

The Governor of Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie, enacted a number of bills into law this week.

They range from protecting children from parents who have been convicted of a sexual assault, to requiring certain employers to offer reasonable time and privacy for mothers to pump breast milk.

The executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, Cathy Betts, told Leilani Momoisea that the community had a lot to do with helping change these laws.

CATHY BETTS: For the most recent bills, I believe we've been working on them for the last few years. But prior to my term beginning here at the commission, the commission itself had been working for numerous years on not just the bills that were passed on Monday, but recently we also passed an emergency contraception for sex assault survivors at all the ERs, that would be mandated by state law, and we had been working on that for 17 years. It was very frustrating because for advocates in the community it was kind of a no-brainer, especially the emergency contraception for sex assault victims. It was a little bit perplexing that it took so long for people to understand it. We kept fighting for these bills to pass, and the attitude in the community is I think everyone is very, very relieved and happy that these bills got passed into law.

LEILANI MOMOISEA: And what is the message, I suppose now, after so long, that these are finally laws, what message does this send?

CB: I think it sends the message that our governor and our legislators care about women and families, first and foremost. And second of all, I think it sends a message that when bills are really originated from community support and born in the community that we can make really good things happen. All the bills, when I look at them, they really came into law because people cared about them and different individuals in the community advocated for them to pass.

LM: And for women, now they can get reasonable time and privacy to breast-feed and pump breast milk, this is, I suppose, another good common-sense law?

CB: Definitely, definitely. It took a little while for this bill to pass, a few years different advocates have been working on it. It does seem like a no-brainer, but I think unless you're a breast-feeding mum some people don't recognise the inherent right to be able to do that is very important.

LM: So great news for mothers wanting to come back into the workforce and not have to worry at least about that.

CB: Definitely, definitely. I think what happened in the past is that mums just stopped breast-feeding because they saw that it was an inconvenience either to their employers or to people around them. Or perhaps they were retaliated against for asking for break time to do that. So I think that this definitely protects breast-feeding mums more than we've been able to protect them in the past.