Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Working Mom for President

Even if Segolene Royal loses the presidential election next year to her presumed rival Nicolas Sarkozy, she will have accomplished a great deal. She has raised four children out of wedlock during the course of a full time political career, beaten established candidates to win her party's nomination, and come within a hair of becoming the first female president of France. Her campaign has naturally brought up many issues concerning women who balance career and family obligations, and France is already ahead of many other countries in facilitating this:
French benefits start with maternity leave — a minimum 16 weeks, though mothers who give birth to twins get 34 weeks. France also has an 11-day paternity leave, thanks to a reform by Royal when she was family minister.

Childcare is affordable, and the excellent preschool system is free. A new law encourages women to have a third child, granting parents €750 (US$940) a month if they stay home for a year afterward. And the list goes on.

While much of the continent is in a panic about aging populations, France has the second-highest birth rate in the 25-nation European Union — 1.94 children born to the average woman. Only the Irish have slightly more, at 1.99.

France's system ensures that mothers here feel relatively little anxiety about going to work. About 81 percent of French women ages 25-49 are employed, the national statistics agency says. There is also little stigma about having babies outside of wedlock, with nearly half of French children born to unmarried parents. [rest of article]

Some foreigners love to talk about the cultural depravity of America, but in reality, we are pretty conservative on certain issues. A woman who had kids out of wedlock and then lived with her partner would have worse chances of being elected to public office than Le Pen, and that's probably overestimating. I hadn't realized that the percentage of working women in France was so high, because in many countries (think Italy), the lack of women in the workforce is the one of the causes (or at least one of the compliments) of some of the economic malaise.

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