Working for Justice

Scandinavians See Parental Benefits Through Feminist Lens

Posted March 28th, 2016 by in Gender Discrimination and Harassment.

Americans dreaming of better work-life balance often set their sights on Scandinavia, and for good reason: The region boasts some of world’s most generous parental leave policies. Sweden, for example, permits new parents to take a full year of compensated leave, split between both parents. (The policy has inspired a photo project, “Swedish Dads,” which has received nearly two million views on Buzzfeed.) Denmark—which recently reclaimed its title as the world’s happiest country—does the same, as does Norway. (If you really want to swoon, read one mom’s account of a weekly series of free hikes, stroller accessible, for new parents led by the Norwegian Trekking Association.)

A new report from CNN highlights the fact that, unlike in the States, our Scandinavian peers—which also rank among the top countries for women’s welfare—view their parental leave policies through an unabashedly feminist lens. “You have this horrible term in English, ‘broken families,’” Bryndis Asmundottir, an Icelandic mother of three, told CNN recently. “Which basically means just if you get divorced, then something’s broken. But that’s not the way it is in Iceland at all. We live in such a small and secure environment, and the women have so much freedom. So you can just, you can choose your life.” Ms. Asmundottir, CNN reports, has three children with two partners and “not a drop of shame or regret.” And she’s not alone—more than two-thirds of Icelandic babies are born to parents who are not married, the highest rate in the world. (Iceland ranks third overall in happiness.)

Reading Ms. Asmundottir’s account, I could not imagine an American activist giving a similar interview. Here, advocates are particularly careful to cast leave benefits in “pro-family” terms that are as hard to argue with as apple pie: for example, the tagline of one leading organization, A Better Balance, is “Advancing the rights of working families.” That’s an easy line for conservative lawmakers to embrace, without any mention of women or feminism or equality.

Is it true that America may be ready for a female president, but is still light-years away from policies packaged as unapologetically feminist?

Jennifer Siegel

Jennifer Siegel

Jennifer Siegel is a Senior Litigation Counsel in the NY office who works on both qui tam/whistleblower cases and on gender discrimination cases. Learn More

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