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UK law highlights parental leave for lawmakers

Measures that give workers paid time off when they become parents have not always benefited the lawmakers who created the rules.

In Britain this week, Parliament updated the law so senior government officials can take paid maternity leave without having to resign.

Only a few countries, including the United States, do not mandate paid parental leave at the national level.

Here’s a look at how politicians around the world have navigated parenting.

Britain’s Attorney General Suella Braverman on Tuesday became the country’s first cabinet official to take paid maternity leave without resigning from her post, after Parliament amended a law that would have required her to do so.

Under the new Ministerial and Other Maternity Allowances Act, one of Ms Braverman’s colleagues will temporarily perform her duties during the six months she is on leave.

“I may be the first, but I will not be the last”, Ms. Braverman said on twitter.

While some welcomed the change as it was long overdue, critics said the measure was rushed in favor of Ms Braverman and objected that the new rules did not apply to all MPs , who receive their full salary during their leave but who are not guaranteed to have a replacement.

Although the new UK law provides for six months paid maternity leave, it does not offer similar benefits to new cabinet fathers, beyond the country’s statutory two-week paternity leave. Of the 26 ministers attending Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet meetings, 21 are men.

Even in countries that guarantee long paternity leave, men do not always take it.

Last year, Japan’s Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi was praised for setting an example for the country’s famous work-drunk fathers when he announced he would take time to look after his new born.

Still, he said he plans to take just two weeks of paternity leave spread over three months, despite being entitled to up to a year, like all new fathers in Japan.

Lawmakers who choose not to take full advantage of paid maternity leave could be motivated by the same fear of discrimination many new or pregnant mothers face in the workplace, said Sarah Childs, professor of gender and politics. at Royal Holloway, University of London. .

She said women in politics fear they could be criticized if they disappeared from parliament for long periods of time, even if they continued to work on constituency issues.

In France, in 2009, Rachida Dati, then Minister of Justice, made the headlines when she returned to her post a week after the birth of her daughter, when she had a 10 week guarantee. leave under French law.

Two years later, a Spanish politician, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, came under scrutiny after she skipped her entitlement to six weeks paid maternity leave and returned to work within 11 days of giving birth.

Benazir Bhutto became the first elected head of government to give birth while in office when she was Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1990, and later reportedly wrote: “The next day I was back at work, reading the government newspapers and signing government records. “

Some countries are leading the way by encouraging legislators to take parental leave and developing accessible policies to enable them to do so.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took six weeks off after the birth of her daughter in 2018, handing over her duties to her deputy.

In an effort to make its Parliament more inclusive, Canada revised its parental leave policy for lawmakers in 2019. At the time, lawmakers were penalized for long absences involving neither illness nor official business. They were also not entitled to parental leave because they did not contribute to EI and had to rely on their party to work out a leave agreement on a case-by-case basis.

Now, Canadian lawmakers, regardless of gender, can take up to a year of paid parental leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child.

The United States and Ireland are among the countries without a formal parental leave policy for elected officials at the national level, leaving lawmakers to make ad hoc arrangements for paid leave within their party.

“This goes back to a historical legacy of institutions not really having to deal with this problem until very recently and then reluctant to deal with it because they consider the informal approach to be more than adequate,” said the Minister. Childs Professor of Royal Holloway, University. from London.

In 2018, when Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth became the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office, she told the Guardian that the lack of formalized parental leave made her feel like the Senate “ is actually 19th century as opposed to 21st in a way.

As Ms Duckworth took 12 weeks parental leave (and brought her baby girl to the Senate), she said it was “a reflection of a real need for more women to lead our whole country” .

In Ireland, Justice Minister Helen McEntee is set to become the country’s first high minister to give birth during her tenure.

But unlike Britain, Ireland does not have a maternity leave policy for lawmakers.

“The fact that there is no provision there in our time, it’s just really just not acceptable,” Ms. McEntee said in an interview in January.