Baby Steps Forwards or Backwards? Call to Extend China’s Maternity Leave to Three Years
On August 10, Beijing’s National People’s Congress delegate Wang Youjun has called for an extension of women’s maternity leave to three years in order to improve the living conditions of babies and young children.
Wang has also proposed to cover paid maternity costs through social insurance or public financing. The proposal has sparked online discussion: “how long should maternity leave be?” (产假应该歇多久) became a trending topic on Sina Weibo after the weekend. Online reactions and media research show that not all mothers agree with a three-year maternity leave.
Wang Youjun (王幼君), Beijing’s National People’s Congress delegate and chairman of Beijing Watchdata System, has made the three-year maternity leave his mission. The successful businessman has continuously advocated prolonging China’s maternity leave for the past two years, and has no intent of giving up.
Wang has personally seen how difficult it is for mothers to get back to work after having a child. The pressure they suffer from long working hours, short sleep, and combining their household responsibilities with their career has a negative effect on work according to Wang: “It is very difficult for these women to completely focus on their work,” he says in an interview with the Observer: “This also negatively affects their co-workers.” Wang stresses that this is especially the case in China’s urban areas, where there is less family support due to long distances. He also states that children need their mother most up to their third birthday. When receiving financial support for this period, mothers could start afresh after three years (Guancha 2014).
Although Wang has received much support for his call, there are also many who disagree with him, fearing that a three year leave will negatively influence the position of women in China, both economically and socially: “When society puts all child-rearing responsibilities on the shoulders of women, it deprives them of their social rights. If men and women are truly equal, then please provide more equal rights and benefits for them. Men and women can take turns in parental leave – this would not rob women of their entitlement to a career,” says one microblogger.
“When society puts all child rearing responsibilities on the shoulders of women, it deprives them of their social rights.”
Currently, working mothers in China get 98 days of maternity leave, commencing two weeks before the child is expected. If a pregnancy results in a miscarriage within four months, there is a 15 day leave; if it is after four months of pregnancy, it is 42 days (66law 2014; BJCB 2014).
Since November 2013, the Chinese government has officially loosened its one-child policy. In the light of the increasing grey population of China, Chinese parents can now get permission for a second child if they were raised in a one-child family themselves (Larson 2014).
“If maternity leave is extended to three years,” one netizen says: “then surely no one is going to hire a woman. If she has two babies, then she will be absent for six years – why would she still keep her job? The job market is so competitive, and there is a need for capable hard-working people; not for someone who is going to be gone for six years.”
The Japanese government has introduced “womenomics” – a series of initiatives that are meant to encourage women’s careers and boost the national economy.
Wang’s plead resembles that of Japanese Prime Minister Abe, who also advocates extending the maternity leave for Japanese women to three years. The plan is part of Abe’s “womenomics” – a series of initiatives that are meant to encourage women’s careers and boost the national economy because of Japan’s low birth rate and aging population.
Japanese women currently get 18 months of maternity leave. Only 38% of Japanese women return to their jobs after having their first baby. A longer maternity leave would enable women to dive into their careers when their children become toddlers. Many see the downsides: a three-year leave from work would also give a setback in women’s professional skills (Chen 2014; Spitzer 2014).
Compared to the rest of the world, China’s current duration of maternal leave is comparable to that of countries like Germany and Switzerland. Russia and Italy maternity leave policy is based on 140 days. The US is one of the few countries that does not mandate paid maternity leave at all (Hall&Sperlock 2013).
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Hall, Katy and Chris Sperlock. 2013. “Paid Parental Leave: U.S. vs. The World (INFOGRAPHIC)” The Huffington Post (February 21) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/04/maternity-leave-paid-parental-leave-_n_2617284.html (Accessed online August 11, 2014).
Larson, Christina. 2014. Bloomberg. “Why China’s Second-Baby Boom Might Not Happen.” Bloomberg Business Week (August 1) http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-08-01/with-end-of-chinas-one-child-policy-there-hasnt-been-a-baby-boom (Accessed online August 11, 2014).
Spitzer, Kirk. 2014. “Japan looks for a few good women to revive economy.” USA Today (January 15) http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/01/15/japan-working-women/4463815/ (Accessed online August 11, 2014).
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