You Can Change The Family Leave Problem In The U.S.

Photographed by Jennifer Avello.
Women and men have been fighting for paid family leave in the U.S. for decades, but over the past few months, it feels like we might be reaching a watershed moment where we'll actually see the change we've been pushing for. It started this summer when the Navy announced it was tripling its maternity leave policy to 18 weeks. IBM stepped up, offering nursing mothers the benefit of shipping their breast milk back home via FedEx when traveling for work. In August, more news came from Silicon Valley, where Netflix and Adobe both expanded their parental leave policies. And Tuesday, Washington D.C. city council introduced a law that would give almost all full- and part-time workers access to 16 weeks of paid leave for bonding with an infant or adopted child, recuperating from active military duty, recovering from an illness, or caring for a sick relative.

When the legislature passes this measure, D.C. will join a growing number of cities and states — including Boston, Seattle, Rhode Island, and California — that offer government-funded paid leave. But millions of Americans still do not have access to any kind of protected parental leave. We've repeated the facts over and over again: The U.S. is one of only a handful of countries that doesn't offer government-funded maternity leave. According to the Department of Labor, only 12% of private-sector workers have access to paid leave. A shocking 25% of women are forced to return to work just two weeks after birth because they can't afford to take unpaid leave.

The news out of D.C. is wonderful, but there's still a lot of work to do. Thankfully, there are two new campaigns pushing to bring awareness to these issues. Last week, at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Summit, Luciana Nunez, U.S. managing director of early life nutrition at Danone, announced the Working Parent Support Coalition and a commitment from a number of Fortune 500 companies — including KKR, Barclays, and Ernst & Young — to improve workplace programs that support parents and families.

It's not even a woman's issue. It's a humanity issue.

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In an interview before the announcement, Nunez said this is just the beginning; these organizations are working with other companies to encourage the expansion of benefits and ensure that men and women feel like they can take advantage of leave offered by employers. Among the businesses represented on the stage, Nestlé announced its plan to evaluate its 14-week paid maternity leave policy — and share its findings publicly. Its study (and the transparency around it) is important because it takes a closer look at corporate culture to make sure that working parents have the support they need.

The feeling among the members of the Working Parent Support Coalition is that change will need to happen on a corporate level before it will happen at a federal level. But with the 2016 election looming, the issue of paid leave is coming up again and again. In October's issue of Women's Health, the editors encourage readers to recognize the dire need for paid leave in this country. The magazine has also launched a petition with Change.org asking all presidential candidates to disclose their paid-leave platforms. So far, the petition has surpassed the goal of 25,000 signatures, but the magazine is still looking for more women and men to join the cause and raise awareness, regardless of whether you're a parent or ever have plans to be one.

"I do think it is important for everyone to be involved,"WH editor-in-chief Amy Keller Laird says. "It's essentially the proliferation of the human race, not to be super dramatic about it... It's not even a woman's issue. It's a humanity issue."

It's not too late to join the campaign, sign the petition, and call for 2016 presidential candidates to take action. To read more about the Working Parents Coalition, click here. To sign the Women's Health/Change.org petition, click here. And for more coverage on this vital issue from the editors at Women's Health, click here, or join them on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #PaidLeavePays.
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