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Friday, February 8, 2013

Maternity leave rates around the world

It may come as a shock to some, and not to others, that the US is one - if not the only - nation that does not offer mandatory paid maternity leave to new mothers.

It makes the US sound pretty darned bad to be stacked up against third-world nations who seemingly offer better for their women. Maybe, maybe not. Even working a dead-end job you hate is arguably better than no prospects at all. Some of the countries on this list made me wonder: What is it like giving birth in, say, the Democratic Republic of the Congo? What's it like living and working there?

My husband visited there last year and he could probably tell you better than I: if you are lucky to have a job, you will get, according to statistics, 14 weeks of partially paid maternity leave. Among the Congolese, however, about one in 13 women dies during childbirth, ranking them 17th in the world for maternal deaths. My husband was awestruck by the dichotomy of living conditions there: in the villages, at least one man took in many children (almost a dozen) who were either his own or orphaned, doling out food to the family and himself often not eating for days at a time. On the flight in from Brussels, only the wealthiest of Congolese could even begin to afford a plane ticket, and you would be sitting amongst only the upper crust of businessmen and women, not average citizens. In the city of Kinshasa, he noted the absolute dismal filth, and the children who would crush rocks and pebbles into sand to sell for a little extra money. He even got a tour of the local hospital (where Hillary Clinton once visited), which has a large wall around it to keep out the 'dregs.'

Yes, the same country that requires a woman's employer to grant her maternity leave and a part of her wages is also the same government that employs soldiers who help themselves to your possessions and house, because the military is grossly underpaid and pissed off that they can't feed their own families. They are also the same government that sanctions rape of their women, sometimes upwards of 100 victims at a time. In many aspects of life there, much of the female Congolese population are treated like shit. So who cares if they get paid maternity leave? (It's a wonder, really...)

One would wonder, then, especially among these poorest nations, what percentage of those women really get maternity leave? Likely precious few.

More reading:
Congo-Kinshasa: Where giving birth is deadly
In US, maternity leave benefits are still dismal
Women for Women International