French minister draws fire over 5-day maternity leave
Women’s groups in France say Justice Minister Rachida Dati’s move to return to work so quickly after childbirth could be used by employers against women who do otherwise.PARIS – French feminists are taking aim at Justice Minister Rachida Dati who went back to work this week just five days after giving birth to a baby girl, saying she is setting a bad example.
Smiling in a black suit and high heels, the 43-year-old minister attended a cabinet meeting on Wednesday at the Elysee presidential palace on the same day that she walked out of a Paris clinic clutching Zohra, her new daughter.
Zohra was delivered by caesarean birth on 2 January and Dati insisted on her first day back at work that she was feeling fine.
"Pregnancy is not an illness," said Georges-Fabrice Blum, the vice president of the French gynaecologists' association, and there are no ill effects from a quick return to work.
But woman's groups in France disagreed.
"This is scandalous," said Maya Sturduts from the National Collective for the Rights of Women.
"Employers can now use this to put pressure on women", she said, especially during the current tough economic times when employers may be looking for excuses to cut staff.
Women in France are guaranteed by law 16 weeks of paid maternity leave of which 10 weeks are usually taken after the baby's birth.
But the French labour code does not apply to ministers like Dati.
Woman's rights activist Florence Montreynaud, a mother of four, said she was "shocked" by Dati's decision to go back to work so quickly and stressed that women do need to rest after delivery.
Montreynaud compared Dati to working women in the 1920s who "gave birth in the factories" and lamented that her decision would exacerbate the divide between "superwomen and wimps" in the workforce.
The gynaecologist Blum said caesarean sections "are a lot less debilitating nowadays in terms of returning to work" and that much of the pain and discomfort can subside the day after the operation.
Still he recommended rest for a period of three weeks to a month.
Marie-Pierre Martinez, the secretary general of the Planned Parenthood association, said Dati "had no choice" but to go back to work to defend her standing in France's male-dominated politics.
"Absence is a way of being kept out of the loop," said Martinez, who noted that Dati has made no secret of the fact that she is ambitious.
The European Commission has recommended that maternity leave be extended to 18 weeks saying it would help families in Europe better organise their new lives with a baby.
Three French women ministers have had babies on the job before, including Sarkozy's defeated rival for the presidency Segolene Royal, when she was environment minister in the 1990s.
Recently, Spain's Defence Minister Carme Chacon took a six-week leave after giving birth to her first child, a boy named Miquel.
Dati, who is single, has kept the father's identity under wraps, telling reporters she had "a complicated private life" and sparking an intense guessing game in the French press.
Dati shot to prominence in 2007, when she became the first politician of north African origin named to a senior French government post.
[AFP / Expatica]