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New Zealand’s Bereavement Leave

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New Zealand has approved paid leave for couples, after a miscarriage or stillbirth. The Labour MP Ginny Andersen who drafted the bill said,

‘I hope it gives people time to grieve and promotes greater openness about miscarriage. We should not be fearful of our bodies.’

New Zealand’s Parliament unanimously approved the legislation which would enable couples 3 days of paid leave, including couples having a child through adoption or surrogacy. 

It is reported that New Zealand is only the second country in the world to introduce this measure after India, and has been praised in recent news for, hopefully, paving a way forward for other countries to follow suit. Previously, employers in New Zealand had already been required to provide paid leave for a stillbirth, when a foetus is lost after 20 weeks or more. This legislation is common in other countries and practiced in firms even without the legislation. However, the new bill in New Zealand expands leave to losing a pregnancy at any point and is expected to become law in a few weeks’ time. 

The new law, however, does not include paid leave for abortions. New Zealand, until they decriminalised abortions last year, was considered to be one of the few ‘advanced countries’ to limit the rights of women for ending a pregnancy in the first two trimesters. These two monumental legislative changes in recent years have created hopefully irreversible advances for the autonomy of women’s bodies in New Zealand. 

Ginny Anderson had been developing the bill for several years after learning that 1 in 4 women in New Zealand have experienced a miscarriage. She argues that,

‘Grief is not a sickness; it is a loss. And a loss takes time.’

The time both men and women would be offered, would not use up allocated sick leave. The bill enables both men and women a period of time to come to terms with their loss at any point during a pregnancy. 

In Britain, parents who experience a stillbirth after 24 weeks are eligible for paid leave. The Miscarriage Association defines a miscarriage as, ‘when a baby, foetus, or embryo dies in the uterus during pregnancy. In the UK that definition applies to pregnancies up to 23 weeks and 6 days, and any loss from 24 weeks is called a stillbirth.’ Similarly, to New Zealand it is estimated that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss during pregnancy or birth in the UK. 

The public conversation around women’s reproductive rights have grown in prevalence in recent years with examples such as the ‘tampon tax’ being abolished in the UK from the 1st of January 2021, meaning that a zero rate of VAT applies to women’s sanitary products. Moreover, the unanimous approval of the free provision of period products bill in Scotland in 2020 has created ‘practical and progressive’ (Labour MSP Monica Lennon) conversations around changes to legislation regarding women’s bodies. In addition to popular culture, media and literature also having the space and platform to represent issues such as period poverty and the taboo loss during a pregnancy. 

With conversations, political and corporate awareness, and public interest around periods and pregnancies gaining weight in many countries, it could be possible that similar legislation is approved in countries such as England and Scotland in years to come. These changes are promoting greater openness about miscarriages and other difficulties faced by women that also affect their partners. It is without doubt a promising first step whilst noting that there is always more to be done.

Should the UK follow in New Zealand's footsteps with this legislation?

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