Rachida Dati, the 43 year old French justice minister, has in the past week received as much press coverage as Britney Spears, Cheryl Cole and the Beckhams put together for returning to work in Sarkozy’s government just five days after giving birth to her daughter by Caesarean section.
In this country the maximum period of maternity leave is 52 weeks and provided you have 26 weeks service by the 15th week before the baby is born, nine months of it is paid (albeit after the first six weeks Statutory Maternity Pay is only £117 a week). The first two weeks of maternity leave after a baby is born is actually compulsory and female employees are not allowed to work during this period so in this country Dati would have been sent back home to be with Zohra for another nine days. Even fathers have the right to two weeks paternity leave with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg calling for up to a year’s leave for fathers.
So does going back to work so soon make Dati a Superwoman or a Supertraitor by undermining the right to maternity leave for ordinary women? After all if she can make it back to work in five days after a C section why can’t everyone else?
Here is my take on the Dati situation:
1. Dati is no ordinary woman. She is one of 11 children from a family of North African descent and the first Muslim minister. Most women would not choose to go back to work after five days but they wouldn’t choose to be politicians either.
2. She is 43 and this is her first baby. She refuses to disclose the identity of the father. When she returned to work she looked absolutely amazing and was wearing four inch heels. Didn’t even have the good grace to look knackered and still have a bit of a baby belly. As I said, no ordinary woman. All of this meant that her return to work got a lot more press than it would otherwise have done.
3. All mothers (especially second time round mothers) know that work doesn’t stop just because you’ve had a baby. You don’t get to loll around in bed all the time cuddling your baby. There’s washing to be done; children to be fed; endless cups of tea to be made for people who come to visit your newborn. Maternity leave is not a holiday.
4. Just because Dati has made choices in life that the rest of us may not have made doesn’t mean she has let the rest of us working women down. We should not criticise her for making that choice any more than we should criticise the woman who decides to take her full 52 week entitlement.
5. The right to longer paternity leave would be a good thing. At present it is only the mother who has the right to a substantial period of leave and the right to return to work and thus it is only women who can take a career break to have children. There are lots of couples out there who would like to share the career break and share the parenting. Also unscrupulous employers who discriminate against women of child bearing years will get a shock when their male employees announce they are taking time off to look after their offspring.
What do the rest of the Superwomen think?