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Europe Says Yes to Paid Maternity Leave

The European Parliament has passed a draft law requiring twenty weeks paid maternity leave.   Considering the current financial crisis, and that here in the US, the Family Medical Leave Act guarantees just twelve weeks of unpaid leave, it’s amazing that such a law is even on the table.  Isn’t it awful that I’m amazed by the idea of legally required paid maternity leave?

Maybe I should be amazed.  Work life balance, in the US at least, still feels like an impossible dream, but a lot has to happen before this European law can be enacted.  EU governments must approve the law and a lot of negotiations are expected.  Proponents argue the law will make it easier for women to have children and keep their jobs at a time when European populations are aging and the countries need both kids and skilled workers.  Opponents say businesses can’t afford it and it will lead to gender discrimination in the workplace. The BBC news service reports: “One of the chief opponents of the new proposal, Conservative MEP Marina Yannakoudakis, called it “well-intentioned but completely out-of-step with reality”.”

Why is it that “reality” is always code for “money” and not, you know, “reality”?  In reality, government and businesses need people, women and men need time off both when they make very little people and when they bring them into their families from elsewhere.  They also need jobs to feed and clothe those wee ones. What with the lifetime of purchases each new birth promises, you’d think businesses would be out there promoting abstinence education.  Instead, I can’t help but think the language of the bottom line will water down this draft law before some version of it gets enacted across Europe.  But at least in Europe they’re talking about paid maternity and paternity leave.  How can we get in on that conversation about maternity leave laws with teeth and money, and paternity leave, too?

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