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5 Oct, 2010 22:39

Superpower leaves women powerless

The US may be the richest country in the world, but it ranks among the worst in maternity benefits for women and investments in early childhood education.

As FORBES holds its Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington this week, working mothers express their frustration at the lack of maternity benefits and affordable childcare.

Annie Bird works full time as a human rights defender with Rights Action and cares for her three small children. In a city without free public preschool and where childcare costs can average $1,500 per child, per month, raising a family is a class issue.

It's a human right violation, really, for women and for children not to be able to work, to support the family in the way they need to be able to, and then of course the children for them not to be able to receive the quality of early childhood education that can help them excel," Bird said.

Amid the political rhetoric of female politicians on the right and left—from Sarah Palin to Hillary Clinton—real gains for working class women remain just out of reach.

But, female politicians themselves face an uphill battle in the November elections, when their numbers are expected to shrink. Women currently make up 17 percent of the US Congress, compared with 25 percent of the Iraqi Congress.

It seems the superpower is leaving its women powerless.

Megan Carpentier, an associate editor with TPM, said women in the United States have made progress since the 1950s and 1960s. However, the US is still behind.

In terms of catching up with some of the European countries that have very liberal maternity leave, childcare leave, parental leave policies we certainly are lagging behind women achieving full equality in the workforce,” said Carpentier.

She explained that social status or economic class in America impacts what women in America may receive.

White collar workers usually work for companies where there are more generous leave benefits. So, while the federal government won’t guarantee anything beyond 12 weeks, some companies may offer three months or six months on their own because they recognize that the contributions of women to the company are important,” Carpentier said.

She explained the part of the differences between the US and other countries is the capitalist perspective that women will achieve maternity and leave benefits from their employer, as opposed to the government. This is not the case in many other systems.

Part of the difficulty again is the difference between the kinds of employers that offer childcare and that offer maternity benefits and the fact that the federal government, in most cases, doesn’t provide it,” said Carpentier.