As I prepare for the birth of my first born, I feel extremely lucky to be giving birth in Israel, where the government offers paid maternity leave.
Until recently, working women who gave birth were entitled to 14 weeks of paid leave at 100% of their salary with an additional 12 weeks of unpaid leave, during which their employer would be required to hold their position for them. Last Tuesday morning, the Knesset passed the Parental Leave Law extending maternity leave by another week, bringing it to a total of 15 weeks of paid maternity leave. Personally, I think this is amazing.
Currently, only 0.4% of fathers partake in maternity leave in Israel, so this new law also hopes to encourage more fathers to take a more active role in the initial weeks of parenthood. Here’s how it works: under the previous law, fathers who wanted to share a mother’s maternity leave could do so only by using a portion of the mother’s leave— at a minimum of three weeks. People weren’t doing this, so the new law, encourages fathers by bringing that minimum down to a week. Additionally, parents can take this additional week jointly during the first 14 weeks following the birth.
As I read the talkbacks on news sites, comments on peoples’ Facebook feeds, and listen to those around me, it’s amazing how many people can’t seem to see the cup as half full, not half empty.
Some feminists see this as an anti-feminist law, replacing our glass ceiling with a concrete one, claiming that lengthening maternity hurts the employability of child bearing-aged women. Research has shown a correlation between more paid parental leave and a wider gender pay gap. The average Israeli Jewish family has slightly over three kids. This means that during her formative career years, the average woman will spend between 9 months to 1 year and a half on maternity leave. But women who don’t appreciate the additional paid leave don’t need to take it! In fact, women can return to the work place as soon as they see fit (the law does not mandate a minimum leave) and their employer must take them back within four weeks.
Left wing supporters see this law as a financial burden on the middle-class, as the 230-million-shekel budget that the Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon put aside for the plan will eventually come out of the pockets of the middle-class tax payers.
Pessimists, on the other hand, talk about how Israel is still far behind, noting Sweden’s 68 weeks and the United Kingdom’s 52 weeks as examples, although both examples are outliers when looking at the International Labour Organization’s reports. I should be used to it by now, but it constantly surprises me how Israelis manage to see that the grass is greener somewhere else. As someone who was born and raised in the United States, compared to the U.S.’s total lack of federally funded maternity leave, 15 weeks of paid leave is a great advantage.
It’s funny to me how many pessimists complain that the extra week isn’t significant (this one is probably mostly coming from men), but every additional week is another step in the right direction to closing the gap on the worldwide average of 18 weeks of paid leave. The Knesset has announced that during the next six months, they will weigh another week extension, bringing the total to 16 weeks. I’m on board with that change, too.