BANSAL: Affordable parental leave should be basic human right
Opinions Column: Call for Change
The issues surrounding paid maternity leave are prevalent in the United States even though they are often overlooked. America does not offer many sustainable options for paid maternity leave that agree with the reality women are faced with. Eighty-eight percent of working women do not have paid maternity leave available to them. In other words, weeks or sometimes even days after delivering a child, their only option is to return to work. But the United States is one of the most powerful and developed countries in the world, which would lead many to (incorrectly) believe that we are not far behind in the progress towards proper treatment. The surprising but unfortunate truth is that of all the developed countries in the world, the United States is last in compensating for women postpartum. In a compilation of 41 countries comparing mandated weeks of paid leave worldwide, including countries like Chile, Lithuania, Malta, Korea, Romania and Bulgaria, the United States stands alone at zero weeks, according to a Pew Research article. Countries such as Estonia go to the lengths of providing 87 full weeks of paid parental leave. The minimum required amount of paid leave in New Zealand is around two months. The astonishingly few maternal leave policies that our country holds leads to severe health, psychological and economic problems. It is only appropriate to compare America to other countries to even begin to initiate the much-needed change that new mothers everywhere are calling for.
Unpaid leave is obviously an option in some cases, but not a long-term solution that lets mothers nurse their infants. For many families, it’s not an option to sacrifice weeks or months without an income. A mother’s postpartum health is very critical and after delivery women experience severe tearing and bleeding. Imagine not being able to walk or even stand properly, yet are faced with no other option except to go back to work without fully recovering. This leads many women to have long term conditions, infections and illnesses that persist and intrude in their daily lives. Most women face postpartum pain that lasts about two months, if not more, which is completely uncovered under current policies. Unpaid leave in America also negatively impacts children’s health. Parents with 12 or more weeks away from work are more likely to get their children tested and vaccinated.
In addition to the physical health problems that come with a lack of any mandated maternal leave, there are mental health issues as well. About 900,000 women are faced with postpartum depression annually, a number that could diminish with the right treatment and policies set in place. Childbirth has such a dramatic impacts on a woman's psychology that suicide is the leading "traditional" cause of death in women who just gave birth. With time to recover, fewer women would suffer through postpartum mental stresses and issues, which can be exacerbated in any office or work environment.
After looking at paid leave as a women’s issue and a humanitarian issue, it is also important to look at it from an economic perspective. Without an appropriate time of paid parental leave, many more people take time off from work to make up for the loss. More often than not, mothers leave the idea of employment completely. Paid parental leave would encourage parents of newborns to return to work, which would benefit the economy, increase the percentage of women in the workforce and help middle-class families earn more stable incomes, as about 40 percent of women are either the sole or primary breadwinners of the household.
Within two weeks of delivery, nearly 1 in 4 mothers are forced to go back to work. Missing out on a crucial period of their child’s life, mothers are making emotional, psychological, physical and economic sacrifices. It is easy to hold a false belief that these sacrifices are inevitable, that this is just something that everyone has to deal with. But the United States is the only industrialized and developed country with no mandated paid maternity leave. If countries such as Great Britain can afford to give 52 weeks of paid leave, why can’t we?
Changes in the system of paid and unpaid leave should not just be desired, they should be expected. Affordable and manageable parental leave is a basic human right, not an option. It is not an option for national childbirth to occur, it is not an option for women to participate in the workforce and economy and it is not an option for both to be balanced by national policies.
Priyanka Bansal is a Rutgers Business School first-year double majoring in business and journalism and media studies. Her column, “Call for Change,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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