>I’ve been back at work about 2 weeks now, after taking 12 months maternity leave. The parental leave conditions where I work are the best I’ve ever seen. They even make up for a lot of other things that the place doesn’t do so well. With the Federal govt’s much-mooted changes to parental leave conditions, and the associated dissection of such making such big news (e.g. this article, warning that taking the longer maternity leave option could harm women’s careers even further), I’m just hoping something progressive and positive actually happens.
It’s confronting to hear about the dearth of maternity (let alone ‘parental’) leave conditions in many countries – particularly the United States! – and I find it appalling that Australia is one of the few nations that does not offer any paid maternity leave to its workers. The Australian offer is up to 1 year unpaid leave; we keep company with Lesotho, PNG, Swaziland, and NZ (!). There’s heaps more about this issue at at the National Foundation for Australian Women’s site HERE.
When viewing a table of the world’s maternity leave entitlements, such as this one from 2001, I’m struck by the fact that just about everywhere is more socially progressive than Oz on this front:
- Most countries in Africa,
- Every country in the Americas, except the USA,
- Most countries in the Asia-Pacific,
- All countries in Europes (with Scandinavian nations such as Sweden and Norway leading the pack, as usual)
That said, and with acknowledging that these countries have policies in place, I’d be interested in how the policies are accessed and mobilised on the ground. How much backlash attends to taking the leave? What kind of silent discriminations are enacted because you take leave? Just because you can doesn’t always mean your employer or workmates think you should.
Working in academia usually means that this kind of concern is minimised, what with the NTEU and its sterling officers on call, but the university sector is certainly not excluded from dodgey and/or hypocritical behaviour re parental leave. I’ve heard of instances where research fellows have to fight to come back to work part-time after taking maternity leave (the rhetoric of most universities these days promotes staff wellbeing and work/life balance…). I don’t know whether this is discrimination against research-only people (by definition, contract workers) or something more widespread. I know it’s often a ‘grass is greener’ / plain envy situation with the resentment of T&R against research-only staff (I think some of them like to think we just swing around in our chairs all day). As much as lip-service is paid to “track record relative to opportunity” (i.e. looking at someone’s publication or grant-winning run and taking into consideration any time out of academia they might’ve had [parental leave, illness, etc]) in grant applications and performance development guff, I know from a swag of anecdotes and personal experience that many assessment panels and reviewers don’t consider a person’s ‘time out’ of academia at all. Another contender with an uninterrupted CV/publication record will almost always look shinier than someone with big holes in their output and erratic momentum on their CV. Will stop ranting about that now. It’s never a good look.
Given the bulging and often polarised layers of debate surrounding women’s rights and gender issues over the decades, I totally understand burn-out and being overwhelmed by the mass of information and calls for action. It happens to me with regularity. But seeing this kind of protest for equal pay for women still having to take place in 2010 really reboots my consciousness and need to engage with the material. As mentioned before, I’m still finding viable ways to do things, but one of the most pressing elements of the whole process is staying informed (trying to stay informed means shoehorning info-absorption time into the day…something that isn’t always possible right now).