Meghan Markle praises Estonia’s long family leave

Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, calls the United States’ Congress and Senate to pass legislation of paid family leave as part of the president Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act; in a letter, sent to the congressional leaders, she singles out Estonia as the country that offers one of the longest paid leaves in the world.

In her letter, addressed to Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s majority leader, Markle pointed out examples of paid family leave in other countries around the world and called on paid leave to become a national right, regardless of politics.

“I’m not an elected official, and I’m not a politician. I am, like many, an engaged citizen and a parent. And because you and your congressional colleagues have a role in shaping family outcomes for generations to come, that’s why I’m writing to you at this deeply important time—as a mom—to advocate for paid leave,” she wrote.

Markle recalled her own upbringing, describing it as “making ends meet” and noting that although her current position is that of a lucky one, millions of people are in economic difficulties and not having the security of paid leave makes their lives even more difficult.

“Over the past 20 months, the pandemic has exposed long-existing fault lines in our communities. At an alarming rate, millions of women dropped out of the workforce, staying home with their kids as schools and daycares were closed, and looking after loved ones full-time. The working mom or parent is facing the conflict of being present or being paid. The sacrifice of either comes at a great cost,” she noted.

“No family should be faced with these decisions. No family should have to choose between earning a living and having the freedom to take care of their child (or a loved one, or themselves, as we would see with a comprehensive paid leave plan).”

Paid leave policies

“I’m writing to you on behalf of millions of American families who are using their voices to say that comprehensive paid leave should not be a place to compromise or negotiate. In fact, most nations already have paid leave policies in place,” Markle pointed out.

“Estonia, for example, offers over a year and a half of leave to be shared by new parents. Many other countries have robust programs that give months of time for both parents (birth or adoptive) to be home with their child. The United States, in stark contrast, does not federally guarantee any person a single day of paid leave. And fewer than one in four workers has dedicated paid family leave through their employer. I’m sure you agree that if we are to continue to be exceptional, then we can’t be the exception.”

A mother and a child by Estonian seaside. The image is illustrative. Photo by Aron Urb.

“I know how politically charged things can—and have—become. But this isn’t about Right or Left, it’s about right or wrong. This is about putting families above politics. And for a refreshing change, it’s something we all seem to agree on. At a point when everything feels so divisive, let this be a shared goal that unites us,” she concluded, calling paid leave to be a national right.

Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is an American member of the British royal family and a former actress. She married Prince Harry, sixth in the line of succession to the British throne, in 2018. In 2020, the couple stepped down as senior members, due to personal privacy issues and perceived hostile media treatment in the UK. They subsequently settled in her native California to pursue business ventures and charity work. They have two children, Archie and Lilibet Mountbatten-Windsor.

UN: Estonia has one of the best family policies

Estonia has one of the best family policies in the world, as noted in a UN report. For a year and a half, Estonian parents receive a fully paid parental leave, depending on their salary before getting pregnant, with a maximum of thrice the national average. At the same time, they are still allowed to earn extra if they wish to do so. Either parent can take the leave.

The job they had before the parental leave is kept for at least three years. If the mother has another child within three years, her benefits will continue to be the same. This provision tends to stimulate parents to have shorter birth intervals.

Read also: Estonians are starting to have more kids.

Cover: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle with other members of the royal family going to church at Sandringham on Christmas Day 2017. Photo by Mark Jones, shared under the Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 licence.

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