The United States is one of only three countries in the world without paid maternity leave. The other two countries? Swaziland and Papua New Guinea and, according to Wikipedia, they offer unpaid leave. The U.S. does not.
I love to throw that fact around. Sounds great as I boost Sweden and bash a U.S. system that does nothing but punish parents. But then I was talking to someone about this last night, and I wondered, “Really? They have paid maternity leave in Burma? In Sudan?”
The answer? Yep. They have paid maternity leave in Sudan (8 weeks, 100 percent pay). And Burma (12 weeks at 66.7 percent pay). And Iraq (62 days at 100 percent). And Somalia (14 weeks at 50 percent). Forbes has a full list here. Or you can search for parental leave on Wikipedia.
Now by no means am I claiming that is better to be a mother in Burma than in the U.S. In fact, maternity leave can work against mothers in that hellhole. From Iriwidaddy:
“I have a son and this is my second pregnancy,” said a woman lying in a bed and fighting against her pain. “If I have this child, I will be fired from my job. So I had to have an abortion.”
The woman recalled being told by her boss on her first day of work at a water-purifying plant that he wouldn’t let her stay on the job if she became pregnant. “He knew I was married, so he told me not to expect any time off if I was planning to have another child.”
Such warnings are common in Burma, where employers are obliged by law to give married women 45 days of paid maternity leave when they become pregnant – something that almost never happens in practice.
But, still, the intent is there, something the U.S. has never managed to do. In fact, the U.S. Army sends women back into combat only months after they have kids. From the Washington Post:
Connor was three months old when Shaw and her husband, Brad, a sergeant with the military police, began a 15-month deployment to Iraq, their second tour in the combat zone. Like thousands of other new military mothers, the 22-year-old Army medic faced a stark choice: Give birth and quickly leave the baby behind, or lose her job.
Many female soldiers hoping to start families face the prospect of missing most of their child’s first year. The Army grants six weeks of maternity leave before a new mother must return to her job or training, and four months until she can be sent to a war zone. The Marine Corps and Navy allow from six months to a year before a new mother must deploy.
And in Iraq, maternity leave dropped dramatically after the U.S. invasion. For all its murderous faults, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq guaranteed a year of paid maternity leave. Now? 62 days, among other setbacks for Iraqi women.
So very American.