On the 24th March 2021, a historic moment for women was witnessed under New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as their parliament becomes the second in the world to pass a bill to allow paid leave for couples who have suffered a miscarriage or a stillbirth.
This comes one year after New Zealand’s parliament decriminalised abortion and allowed women to terminate their pregnancy up to the 20-week mark. The bill was put forward by the MP for Hutt South Ginny Andersen. She stated that her motivation for proposing this bill was knowing that one in four women in New Zealand have had a miscarriage, and that paid leave would offer ‘time to come to terms with their loss without having to tap into sick leave’. Andersen suggested that the provision of paid leave under this bill is important as it makes the distinction between being ill and suffering a bereavement in saying ‘their grief is not a sickness, it’s a loss’. The bill acknowledges that women shouldn’t suffer financially when they are already facing a very emotionally challenging time.
The bill, which was passed unanimously through parliament, also allows the partner of the female who has suffered a miscarriage to go on paid leave for three days. This recognises that the sense of loss is felt equally by the partner and acknowledges the emotional impact on both parties. The clause is particularly powerful in the context of the male(s) involved as allowing them to take time off to come to terms with their loss, is taking a step to combat unhealthy social attitudes towards how men deal with their emotions. Men often feel as though they have to bottle up their feelings in order to be seen as masculine and able to hold their family together in a time of crisis. The implications of toxic modes of masculinity such as these on men’s mental health can be extremely damaging. The bill is making a powerful statement by bringing the public’s attention to the ways in which men also suffer emotionally from experiencing this kind of trauma, emphasising the need for support for both parties.
In proposing the bill, Andersen has assured that the provision also applies to couples having a baby through adoption or surrogacy. She highlighted the importance of the practical relief that this provision will offer in allowing for a three-day paid break from work. She anticipates that the bill will create a discourse around miscarriage to support women going through this harrowing experience. In reflecting on this, Andersen released a tweet stating she hopes that the legislation will ‘promote[s] greater openness about miscarriage’, closing with the statement ‘we should not be fearful of our bodies’.
Not only does this offer women the reassurance that they will not lose money in taking time off to process their bereavement, the bill also makes a powerful statement about the capacity for female leadership to put feminist issues such as these on the political agenda. The statements that Ginny Andersen has released via her Twitter page have highlighted that female leaders are taking issues to parliament that affect so many women every year and making real changes to take the pressure off them. The hope is that these changes make a practical difference to couples who have suffered a miscarriage or a stillbirth, but also that their grief is publicly validated.
The bill is a great stride towards supporting women in alleviating work-related pressures when dealing with this great loss. In an interview with the BBC, Ginny Andersen stated that paid leave in the context of an abortion was omitted from the bill as it needed to gain a majority vote in parliament in order to be passed, suggesting that if this clause had been included that the bill may not have been passed. Clearly, there is still some work to be done to create an open discourse with practical provisions for traumas suffered by women, but this bill feels like an excellent place to start.