Steve Hilton, the strategy director for British Prime Minister David Cameron, has reportedly suggested abolishing maternity leave to help stimulate the country’s sluggish economy, says the Telegraph. Currently British women can taken a year-long maternity leave which, writing on this side of the Atlantic, sounds quite good to me. The US is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate paid maternity leave as Fox News’ “America Live” anchor Megyn Kelly recently pointed out. Kelly returned to work on Monday after the birth of her daughter, Yardley Evans, on April 14, and was promptly informed by talk-radio host Mike Gallagher that maternity leave is a “racket.”
Some people really do not get it.
Here’s what Gallagher said, according to the Los Angeles Times:
“Megyn’s still on maternity leave, right? Boy … what a racket that is,” Gallagher had told Fox’s Chris Wallace in May. “I mean, men don’t get to bond. … How much time does she get off?”
Three months, Wallace said , provoking the reply, “It’s unbelievable … do you think you’d get three months off? How much time did you get off when your kids where born?”
Wallace apparently had found a week off to be more than enough new-dad bonding time — while Gallagher apparently hoped the new mom would be so cut off from co-workers and the Internet that she’d never hear a peep about his blurt.
It’s always amazing to hear people/men talk about maternity leave as “time off.” I think I can accurately state that, after one gives birth, one pretty much says farewell to “time off.” Motherhood is a full-time job that, unlike the average full-time job, has a 24/7 commitment (and, indeed, not the greatest salary from a financial perspective. It is certainly an experience that has been life-defining for me). I don’t know the details of Wallace’s family life, but perhaps he only needed a week off for “new-dad bonding” because someone else (his wife) was taking care of their newborn child.
Kelly herself told Gallagher that “the United States is in the dark ages when it comes to maternity leave.” Think Progress cites figures from the Project on Global Working Families which shows how really, really, really far behind the rest of the world the US is about maternity leave:
Out of 173 countries studied, 169 countries offer guaranteed leave with income to women in connection with childbirth; 98 of these countries offer 14 or more weeks paid leave. Although in a number of countries many women work in the informal sector, where these government guarantees do not always apply, the fact remains that the U.S. guarantees no paid leave for mothers in any segment of the work force, leaving it in the company of only 3 other nations: Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland.
Those 52 weeks that a woman qualifies for in the UK are actually a minimum with “most employers offering more generous arrangements.”
An Australian study even points out that maternity not only pays for itself, it boosts the economy.
Strategy director Hilton’s suggestion to just do away with maternity leave is unlikely to go beyond reports in the media and general expressions of disgust from many. Cameron, says the Telegraph, has himself been a supporter of maternity leave and Hilton is known for coming up with “seemingly crazy ideas in an attempt to spark creative debate.” But the fact that Hilton even thinks he could suggest that maternity leave be eliminated — and that Wallace could refer to it as a “racket” — shows that, even in a country with more “family-friendly” policies, women and men (who can now share maternity leave in the UK) have to stand up for maternity leave and paternity leave too.
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Photo by Ed Yourdon