A report naming Australia as the second-best place in the world to be a mother has surprised some Australians, who note that the government is only now introducing a paid parental leave program.
The report, released by the Save the Children charity to coincide with Mother's Day, cites the outstanding economic, educational, and health benefits enjoyed by Australian mothers, and ranks Australia second only to Norway.
It says that with an average life expectancy of 84 years, relatively good economic opportunities and a high level of formal schooling, mothers are well placed to give their children the best chance of surviving and thriving.
Grumbles over maternity leave
Women’s groups in Australia, though, point out that their country is one of only two OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries without statutory paid maternity leave. The other is the United States.
Earlier this month, the Labor government of Kevin Rudd announced that new mothers will receive 18 weeks of paid leave, with the program to be implemented next year.
Under the status quo, women are entitled to 12 months of unpaid leave. By contrast, the United Kingdom introduced paid maternity leave three decades ago, with mothers now able to take a year off, nine months of it paid, before returning to their jobs. Under recently announced reforms, fathers will have the right to take their partners’ place at home after the first six months.
In Australia, a range of health-related and socio-economic factors contribute to the high ranking of mothers in the survey. They include the low risk of premature maternal death: just one in 13,300, compared with one in eight in Afghanistan, the lowest-ranked country. Seventy-one percent of Australian women use modern contraception methods.
Australian women earn on average 70 percent of male income, compared with 34 percent in Niger, the second-worst country to be a mother. In the national Parliament in Canberra, 27 percent of seats are held by women; in Norway, the figure is 40 percent.
Not as good to be a child
But the report also finds Australia a less advantageous place to be a child, thanks to the infant mortality rate in Aboriginal families.
In the league table of the best countries in which to be a child, Australia is ranked 28th out of 43, with the figures skewed by the gulf between the health and life expectancy of Aboriginal and non-indigenous children.
The latter are three times more likely to die before their fifth birthday.
As well as the inferior living conditions common to many indigenous communities, experts blame a shortage of midwives in rural and remote areas for the mortality rate.