Surprising! No paid maternity leave in US

February 22, 1998

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Now, 119 countries meet the standard of a 12-week leave. Of those, 62 allow for a leave of 14 weeks or more. The countries providing the longest paid maternity leave by law are the Czech Republic with 28 weeks; Italy and Canada with 17 weeks each, and Spain and Romania, with 16 weeks each.

Denmark, Norway and Sweden each provide for paid leave that my be taken by either parent, although a portion must be taken by the mother.

In the United States, the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act provides for 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Some states, including New York, New Jersey, California, Hawaii and Rhode Island, mandate paid maternity benefits, often treating them as a form of disability compensation. How condescending and how generous!

I can not understand this unsympathetic attitude towards their pregnant women; I think it is unwarranted and, if I may say so unlike Americans who are by and large, the most generous and hospitable people on earth.

I never knew the magnitude of parents' love until I became a parent in 1969. I have always treated women with love and the greatest care and even more so, pregnant women at all times.

Borrowing from President John Kennedy in Profile in Courage, "mothers may still want their favorite sons to be President, but, according to a famous Gallup poll of some years ago, they do not want them to become politicians in the process."

Well, I shall say this much. In Malaysia, favourite sons whose parents want them to be Prime Minister, will have to, whether they like it or not, join Umno. I believe this advice is good for a long time to come. Want to bet?

Briefly, I glanced through, during the long weekend holiday last week, a good review of the just published Aesop: The Complete Fables (Penguin).

Aesop reminds me of two memorable occasions in my life.

Long before I started formal schooling in 1947, my father taught me to read the story about the famous race between the "arnab dan kura-kura" - the hare and the tortise - in Jawi script. Of course, my father did not know the allegory came from Aesop. My father was not an Anglophile but he thought anything good must invariably have come from the English! I knew it was Aesop's long afterwards.

Umno president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad has introduced Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Aesop in his presidential speeches at Umno general assemblies in the eighties, and on each occasion, I was leading the Kok Lanas Umno Division delegation.

During the 1988 general assembly, an angry Mahathir used an Aesopian fable to rouse the ire of the delegates (and I think, he succeeded) against a Selangor delegate, Dato' Harun Idris, who had attacked him in relation to an impending Umno split following the 1987 bitter presidential election. Mahathir told the assembly about a lion cub that grew up to bite the human hands that fed him.

The Malays have a parallel parable but Aesop's was less coarse, and I suppose, that must have been the reason he chose an Aesopian fable instead.

Anyway my delegates and several other delegates asked me who was Eusoff? Tongue-in-cheek, and trying hard not to laugh, I told them "Eusoff" was an ancient Malay sage. However, during lunch, I told them that Aesop was a legendary Greek fabulist, who was said to have lived in the 6th century before the birth of Jesus Christ and whose fables were popular and the most enduring in Western literature and culture.

I never knew whether they believed me. But I half suspected they were happier with my first answer that Aesop (Eusoff) was a Malay.

(Datuk Abdullah Ahmad is our Special Envoy to the United Nations.)