Hungarian government takes steps to encourage women to have babies

January 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hungary Parliament Building, Budapest

A really interesting story on the Guardian website – originally from Le Monde –  on the declining birth rate in Hungary. The population has dived to 10 million, with a fertility rate of 1.27 births per woman forming one of the lowest in Europe.

A number of factors can go towards explaining this of course – in the 1990s abortion rights were heavily restricted so of course the birth right was higher, and under Communist rule, which ended in 1989, women were seen as an essential part of the workforce, both as workers but also as mothers. The pressure to reproduce was heavily emphasised by the state. Women’s rights groups have sprung up in the last 20 years, namely the Feminist Network which was founded by 50 women in 1990, but it could still be said that the post-Communist years have seen women exercise the freedom to challenge their roles from wives and mothers.

Hungarian women are being offered a massive three years maternity leave in a bid to encourage women to have babies – along with plans to improve part time jobs which currently only account for 3% of employment.

Look across to neighbouring Holland, and part time jobs account for 30%.  The problem here is more the challenges of careful town planning to cope as family numbers grow in a densely populated country. The fertility rate is 1.66 births per woman in Holland.

The maternity leave system is also different in the Netherlands – while woman only receive six months leave for pregnancy, she receives full payment of her salary in that time and excellent workplace-related rights. And, crucially, fathers in Holland get good paternity rights too.

Neighbouring Hungary could learn a lot from these lessons – as could the majority of countries in the EU. Make it easier for families to cope with the financial stress of childbirth, make it easier for women to return to work, and for men to take time off to also care for their children. Share the burden between men and women and the whole country suffers.

Otherwise women are condemned to a choice of either family or career.

Instability of Latvian men hinders high-achieving women

December 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

The BBC report on women in Latvia

An interesting snapshot into post-Soviet Latvia here from the BBC. The country, which has 8% more women than men and more than ten years difference in life-expectancy, is struggling with the gender imbalance. The men are facing high levels of alcoholism and depression; the women have fewer choices of partners – leading to increased competition in a sense, with fewer men to go around.

As one Latvian woman puts it: “Here we have a war of beauty – the most beautiful wins” and certainly the BBC delights in showing a wave of trendy and well styled young women enjoying their work and social lives, rightly hailed as the country’s success stories.

The men, although referred to as the root of several of the country’s social problems, are sadly absent from the film.

What is filmed as basically a light-hearted piece (“Look how well these women are doing – although they’re all so beautiful and yet can’t find a boyfriend!”), it fails to address the real social issues at work. The transition to capitalism threw up many opportunities for women, but also placed a lot of pressure on men to succeed financially. The country has maintained its “macho” based culture  that puts pressure on men to drink, smoke, gamble, earn lots of money – to live fast. Consequently, the country has the highest rate of single-mothers in the EU, more than 80% of suicides are committed by men, and highly-educated and intelligent women are often left choosing to be alone or to leave the country rather than settle with a man they see as inferior. And there is a sadly inevitable issue with the underground sex trade and human trafficking, not to mention cases of domestic violence and women stuck in abusive relationships where they feel are unlikely to find another partner if they leave this one.

More focus on education would have a positive impact on future generations of both men and women, and help to maintain the country’s emerging economic successes.

European maternity laws to be blocked by UK

October 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

A row is brewing in Europe this week – nothing new in that! Except this row could be one of the most important decisions the European Parliament ever makes.

European Union flag

Set to vote this week on increasing maternity leave from 14 to 20 weeks, the UK is planning to vote against the legislation, which would then block the laws being passed.

The British Conservative government is, predictably, concerned about alienating big business. This move could cost British businesses more than £2.5bn a year.

Woe betide any Tory that suggests that these costs are a small price to pay for a more mature approach to childcare.

So many problems with family life and gender relations across the UK are caused by biased childcare policies. The very talk of “maternity leave” places childcare, and issues to do with children firmly with women.  Plus a policy such as this, however well meaning, will undoubtedly make some employers think twice about employing young women of – and I hate this phrase so forgive me – “child bearing age”.

I appreciate that paternity leave (and maternity leave for that matter) in Europe is already bounds ahead many countries in the world – but isn’t it time to build on that success? Instead of just piling more time onto existing maternity leave, with an unreasonable cost on business, why doesn’t the EU instead make a commitment to allow a certain amount of allocated paternal leave, to be divided between mother and father as seen fit within that family.

Women in the UK currently get 12 months off, with the first six weeks on 90% pay, then 33 weeks on just under £125 a week of statutory maternity pay from the state.  

This site is a brilliant tool for comparing which countries offer what in terms of maternity leave – with Sweden leading the way with 450 days paid parental leave; 360 days at 75%, and 90 days flat rate

A flexible paternity-maternity leave approach like this makes the most sense for families and would have wide-reaching implications for women, making it less likely they would have to face a decision between putting their career on the backburner for a few years or have a family.

It’s time the state stopped putting business ahead of the welfare of its citizens.

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