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Illustration by Sarah Fay

Culture

The Misleading Response to NZ Miscarriage Leave

By Hannah Walker

New Zealand made headlines back in March 2021 for bringing in bereavement leave for women who experience miscarriages and stillbirths. Parliament voted unanimously to give three days of paid leave to allow parents to come to terms with their loss. 

Whilst this is something to celebrate, for it’s always welcomed to see miscarriage become less stigmatised in any amount, many of the headlines were quite misleading. 

“New Zealand becomes one of the first countries to legalize paid leave for miscarriages” – The Washington Post.

“New Zealand approves paid leave after miscarriage, and encourages the world to follow” – CTV News.

“New Zealand considers a new kind of parental benefit: bereavement leave for miscarriages” – Fortune.

You get the idea.

The media hailed New Zealand as a ‘pioneer’ for being one of the first countries to pass this legislation, when in fact many Asian countries have had this legislation in place for a while. In some cases for decades, and often more widespread.

India has had the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act since 1961, offering six weeks of paid leave for women who experience a miscarriage at any stage in their pregnancy. The Philippines allows for 60 days of paid leave, which also extends to abortions, and includes 7 days leave for partners [1]. Indonesia grants six weeks of paid leave. Mauritius allows three weeks for miscarriage and 14 for stillbirths [2]. All these countries, and more, have similar legislation in place. So why are we so focused on New Zealand’s short three days?

Is it because New Zealand was the first country to give voting rights to women, and has been given the title of ‘pioneer’ on issues surrounding women’s rights? Perhaps the media wanted something positive to write about or anything other than Covid? Or maybe Western media doesn’t typically acknowledge progressive milestones made by non-white countries?  

The latter perpetuates the idea that white feminism is leading the charge on equality, and in doing so, diminishes achievements made by women of colour. This is just one example that reflects the cultural problems that predominantly have white countries being applauded for their ‘progressiveness’. 

From this perspective, many Western countries don’t even have any legislation in place at all on the subject. The UK has some protection, but not any statutory leave. Many American states are still in debate about the legalization of abortion and many disregard paid maternity leave, let alone paid miscarriage leave. But that’s a separate discussion for another day.  

This article isn’t in any way intending to ridicule the legislation that New Zealand instated earlier this year, but rather question the media’s response to it. Journalists neglecting to do full research on the topic means that they continue to applaud white countries for doing the bare minimum. It’s something that you can often see in the media and it’s a harmful thing to let continue, for it undermines the advancements of non-white countries. 

Looking past messages from the media, actively spotting white feminism, you will start to see a more holistic picture. Maybe then, we can look towards full, worldwide progression, learning to be better from other political systems.

Disclosure: From the time of writing this, potential changes to legislation may have been made.