UN Goodwill Ambassador and former fictional Princess of Genovia, Anne Hathaway, recently spoke to the UN about the necessity of paid parental leave. Hathaway took the opportunity to share her thoughts on how paid parental leave gives families the opportunity to readjust to the addition of a new family member while also benefiting society by removing another gender-driven stereotype.
Hathaway began her address by reflecting on how her own experience of becoming a new mother shaped her view on the issue. She references the fact that in the U.S., women are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, while men are entitled to no parental leave whatsoever. She said, “That information landed differently for me when one week after my son’s birth, I could barely walk. That information landed differently when I was getting to know a human who was completely dependent on my husband and me for everything, when I was dependent on my husband for most things, and when we were relearning everything we thought we knew about our family and our relationship.”
Hathaway also recognized the financial burden of becoming a new parent. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘If the practical reality of pregnancy is another mouth to feed in your home and America is a country where most people are living paycheck to paycheck, how does 12 weeks of unpaid leave economically work?’ The truth is for too many people it doesn’t.” All too often, mothers who are still experiencing the emotional and physical effects of having a baby return to their jobs before they’re ready, because it is the only way that they can afford to take care of their new, bigger family. In fact, one in four American women returns to their jobs only two weeks after giving birth because they cannot afford more time off.
Hathaway broadened the scope of the issue to criticize how current norms of maternity leave, instead of parental leave, perpetuate the gender-driven stereotype of women and girls as the sole caretakers. “The assumption and common practice that women and girls look after the home and the family is a stubborn and very real stereotype that not only discriminates against women, but limits men’s participation and connection within the family and society,” said Hathaway. Although unpaid maternity leave was intended to be a benefit to women in the workplace, it suggests that fathers are not expected to participate in welcoming a new member to the family, which places unnecessary stress on the mothers. Hathaway continued, “Whether or not you have or want kids, you will benefit from living in a more evolved world with policies not based on gender.”
Another issue is that, since women may take time off to give birth and men do not, women in many workplaces endure the stigma of being unreliable employees even if they have not had children or do not intend to have children. Many employers prefer to hire men in their 20s and 30s over women in the same age range.
Hathaway concluded the speech with a global call to action, urging governments and employers to acknowledge the benefits of paid parental leave for all members of society.
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