When I gave birth to both my babies I took 12 weeks off work with paid parental leave. Financially, I’m just not sure how we would have coped without it if I hadn’t been paid. My partner had two weeks off work and we had no option to swap our roles. It seemed crazy to me at the time – and even crazier now – that the primary caregiver is automatically expected to be the woman.
I’ve heard people say women need the extra leave because they are the ones recovering from birth, but that argument has more holes than a sieve. For starters, staying home with a baby that never sleeps hardly falls into the ‘recovery’ category; in fact, dragging myself out of bed all night, every night, to tend to a baby after giving birth felt like climbing Mt Everest straight after surgery. It also doesn’t take into account the modern family. We live in a society where families differ from house to house; single parents, gay couples, adoption, fostering. How are we still so stuck in the archaic roles of the man going off to work while the woman stays at home?
On International Women’s Day yesterday, Anne Hathaway gave a brilliant and passionate speech to the United Nations Women’s Conference on paid parental leave. Of all the incredible points she made (and she made many), the need for redefining the male and female role as caregivers is more important than ever. Men need to be freed of the expectation and burden to be the primary breadwinner (because often they aren’t) and women need to freed of the burden of expectation to be the primary caregiver, no matter what.
“The deeper into the issue of paid parental leave I go, the clearer I see the connection between persisting barriers to women’s full equality and empowerment, and the need to redefine, and in some cases, de-stigmatize men’s role as caregivers. In other words, to liberate women, we need to liberate men.”
It sounds really simple. Equality for all, and everyone given the same choices. However, our society is still so deeply entrenched in women as the primary caregivers and men as the providers that we have a long way to go to change perceptions, views and rights such as equal paid leave.
In Australia, the government provides 18 weeks paid parental leave which can be claimed by either parent. However, there is also a Dad or partner paid parental leave of two weeks. Even the naming of these payments give you an idea of who is expected to take which paid leave. Leave from private companies differ greatly, but still favour the mother when it comes to parental leave. In the US there is no paid parental leave; women are given 12 weeks UNPAID leave and men are given none, which puts them last amongst developed countries for paid parental leave. Hillary Clinton had said she planned to change this if elected.
In the same way Ashton Kutcher was criticised after making his incredibly powerful speech on human trafficking, Anne has also been told to limit her voice and get back to her ‘day job’ as an actress. Not only are the comments left in response to the video of her speech derogatory and sexist, people are now criticising her work as an actress and calling her the most awful names. I’ve read articles that discussed the outfit she wore when delivering her speech, but failed to report on anything she spoke about. We clearly still have a long way to go in the fight for equal rights, so let’s empower and support the women who get up and say something and keep fighting everyday. We’re right behind you, Anne!
Here is a 2 minute highlight of Anne’s incredible speech:
A longer 12 minute version of Anne’s speech but well worth the watch:
Do you think we need changes made to paid parental leave?