Monday, 18 June 2012

Canada Is the Best Country to Be a Woman? Well, Sure a Lot Better than the US

For some time I've been meaning to write about what difficult choices young women and their families must make in the US.  We've had had visitors recently who've told us what little guaranteed maternity leave there is (three months without pay is considered good, and forget about fathers getting any leave.) Child care costs are also so high that I'd hate to be a young coiuple trying to decide if having kids is a viable economic option.

Our visitors have been surprised to learn that maternity and parental leave is now part of the employment insurance program in Canada.  Figuring out how much a parent is eligible for can take some calculations, but basically 35 weeks at 55 per cent of what you were making is the minimum.  In Quebec, once you go back to work, you can also get a tax credit for your child care expenses, and are eligible for $7 a day daycare.  The latter is in relatively short supply--Jeanne's parents just learned that she will have a place  around the time she turns two, although she was registered when she was born--but the program makes it much easier for women to stay in the labour market.

So the recent survey of G20 countries which puts Canada at the top of the list of
"Best Countries for Women" comes as no surprise to me.  Child care, health care, a decent legal framework: all of these count in the continuing struggle to allow women to reach their potential.  The benefits for society as a whole are immense, too, beginning with a safety net for children who have much better chances of leading healthy, happy lives than before the programs were started.

This is not to say that all is well here.  But certainly it's a lot better than it is in, say, the country that ranks 6.  That just happens to be our neighbor to the South.

The New York Times story on the survey says: “On most of the health indicators, whether it’s maternal mortality, child mortality or life expectancy, the U.S. does much worse than you would expect,” said Patrick Watt, global campaign and advocacy director for Save the Children. “The U.S. spends a lot on health as a percentage of G.D.P. but is very inefficient in translating that into health gains.”

It adds: "the lifetime risk of a woman in the United States to die from a pregnancy-related or birth-related cause stands at 1 in 2,100. Only three other countries categorized as “more developed nations” by Save the Children, rank lower: Albania, Moldova and Russia."

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