Last week, New Zealand’s parliament unanimously approved legislation that provides three days of paid leave to couples who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth at any stage of pregnancy. With this decision, New Zealand becomes one of the first countries to allow paid time off following a miscarriage or stillbirth without employees having to use their sick leave. The only other country with legislation of this type is India, but according to this Washington Post article, only those who work at a company with 10 or more people are entitled to these six weeks of paid leave. With much of the population working in the informal job market, this impacts only a small fraction of citizens.
Pregnancy loss is something that many women experience at some point in their lives. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 10 to 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. This bill shows support to mothers that experience loss at any time during pregnancy, giving them time to recover mentally and physically. It not only offers financial and emotional support to parents but also encourages more open conversation about miscarriage and stillbirth, which can be uncomfortable to discuss. According to Ginny Andersen, the member of Parliament who presented the bill, “This is a Bill about workers’ rights and fairness. I hope it gives people time to grieve and promotes greater openness about miscarriage. We should not be fearful of our bodies.”
This legislation offers support to women and their opportunities in the workplace. As stated in a New York Times article, “The new law, which had been in development for several years, comes amid a broader global reckoning over women at work. Women have long struggled to balance the requirements of their employers with issues like pregnancy, sometimes leading them to miss advancement and other opportunities.” In this Atlantic article, Slaughter discusses her personal story and attempt to “do it all.” She talks about the way that employers often subtly make it difficult for a primary caregiver to get ahead. She gives an example of an employer considering two equally talented employees, one is a parent, and one spends their free time training for a marathon. The employer is likely to believe that the marathon runner is ferociously disciplined and willing to push himself to reach both work and personal goals. The employer is not likely to believe the same things of a mother who manages many other things on top of getting the same quality of work done.
Slaughter argues that a more balanced life in which we rediscover the pursuit of happiness starting with the people we love would be better for us all. This requires changing the culture of work, the same culture that she explains motivated many women she knew climbing the legal hierarchy in New York firms to never admit to taking time off for a child’s doctor appointment or school performance, but instead invented a much more neutral excuse so they would not be discriminated against for a lack of commitment to their work. Slaughter states that by changing the culture “we’ll create a better society in the process, for all women. We may need to put a woman in the White House before we are able to change the conditions of the women working at Walmart. But when we do, we will stop talking about whether women can have it all. We will properly focus on how we can help all Americans have healthy, happy, productive lives, valuing the people they love as much as the success they seek.”
There is a culture in the world that penalizes employees for having others to care for. There are assumptions made about mothers that make it difficult for them to advance in their careers and balance their family life. This inequality starts even before a child is born. As stated in the Chronicle of Higher Education, there is a discussion about the “baby penalty” that women face in Academia, but there is an absence of discussion on the reality of miscarriage. “The culture of silence surrounding miscarriage adds a further strain to the ability of female faculty members to succeed in academe…we need to recognize that gender inequality starts when a woman tries to have children, not only after she has them.” This applies not only to careers in Academia but to most career fields.
This type of legislation gives women the power to be honest and talk openly without being penalized or being seen as a less valuable employee. Many have suffered at work in silence so as not to lose credibility or possibility for promotion. There is a reality that someone needs to be responsible for childcare, and this care starts before a child is born, with the physical and mental toll that pregnancy takes on a woman’s body. This legislation passed in New Zealand is a step towards a culture that accepts and talks about parenthood, the female body, and the struggles that women face through miscarriage and pregnancy in general. This creates a culture that is more supportive of women working and being able to balance being a good employee with managing family life. This type of legislation shows that there are things America could do to change the culture of support for family and for women in the workplace.