In one of the most developed and wealthiest countries in the world, and one that seems obsessed with family values, why is paid maternity leave virtually non-existent?
I was born and raised in Australia, where long-term paid maternity leave was a given for my mother and her friends and later on, my friends. According to Australia’s Fair Work website, mothers get 18 weeks paid maternity leave paid by the Australian government on top of paid leave from their employer for the same amount of time. In Australia, women who adopt a child also are paid up to 18 weeks maternity leave as well. Fathers or partners caring for a newborn or recently adopted child are paid by the Australian government for up to two weeks, plus they get paid leave from their employer for longer if wanted. For those moms who want to take a full year off work to care for their child, they can do so and be guaranteed their job is waiting for them when they return.
In Europe and the rest of the world, maternity leave may be even more generous. Sweden pays both parents 480 days of leave! This can be taken anytime up until the child turns 8 years old. In his documentary Sicko, Michael Moore researched how new mothers are treated in Europe and was astonished to find that the French government pays someone to come and wash new parents’ clothes while they have time for what’s important: bonding with their newborn.
Broadly recently released a new documentary, Maternity Leave: How America Is Fucking Over Its Mothers, and it points out some cold, hard and rather amazing facts about this country and its policy towards new moms.
Eighty-eight percent of women have no paid leave at all when they give birth in this country. Maternity leave is only granted to federal employees in the US who get six weeks of paid maternity leave, regardless of gender. This is staggering to consider because women make up two-thirds of the minimum wage earners in the U.S!
Eight out of every 10 mothers work in this country, and because they have no paid maternity leave, must rush back to work after a week or two. Many of these brand new mothers are still breastfeeding or pumping and have to leave their newborn in the hands of a nanny or relative.
The film shows content Swedish parents juxtaposed with anxious American parents, the latter of whom worry about leaving their young children because they don’t receive paid leave. The American parents feel guilty and trapped in this situation, and their palpable anxiety can make the film hard to watch at times.
It’s time that America, one of the richest countries in the world, rethinks our stance on maternity leave. It’s time that paid leave becomes a rite of passage for all new moms and their children.