Why Aren't They Asking About Fathers?

Irit Rosenblum
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Irit Rosenblum

Save the Children recently published its 13th annual State of the World's Mothers report. The report employs data from the United Nations and the World Health Organization to rank the education, wages and health of mothers worldwide. Out of 165 nations studied, Israel is ranked 45th best for raising children.

Hidden within that flat statistic is some truly startling data about wage discrepancies. Outrageously, nowhere in the world do women earn equal pay for equal work. Yet wages and earning power are a critical parameter of welfare. As the standard of living rises, so does their importance.

The report shows that in Israel, men earn 56 percent more than women. Compare that, on the one hand, with Scandinavia, considered the leading region for mothers' welfare, where wage differentials between men and women are only 30 percent, and, alternately, with Jordan, where the wage gap is 500 percent.

In a stunning demonstration of distorted logic, some justify this universal inequality by considering women's salaries as "additional" to their husband's income. By this logic, "second" salaries needn't be as high. As if people earned according to their needs! If this were true, poor, single parents would earn the most - and clearly, that's not the case.

"A mother who is really a mother is never free," wrote Honore de Balzac, the 19th-century French writer, sardonically, though he meant every word. There are many myths associated with the maternal role, and motherhood today arouses the expectation of complete dedication and selfless giving to their children and family. Women have internalized these social expectations, and many measure themselves against the ideal of the perfect mother.

The State of the World's Mothers report perpetuates, in black and white, the bitter truism that being a good mother takes money. By the measurements employed by the report's authors, there is a direct correlation between a nation's wealth and the conditions it offers its mothers. The glaring exception is the United States, ranked at 25 despite being the world's most prosperous nation, whose social security infrastructure is appalling.

Yet, you will find no such report on fathers, because it has never been done. The question of what is the best nation for a man to be a father is never asked. Studies about the challenges of fatherhood are not undertaken, because societies around the world operate on the assumption that women will do most of the child-rearing work. And be happy about it.

No doubt, progress has been made. Fathers in Western societies today invest more time in their children and in housework than ever before. Even parenting roles that were standard in the 1970s have changed, and gender relations continue to evolve. Yet the primary responsibility for child care still falls on the mother, often at the expense of her professional aspirations. It is hard to ignore the injustice of the situation wherein a woman's ability to fulfill multiple roles as caretaker and homemaker, nurturer and provider, with such meager means, is evaluated without the more basic question - why she carries the responsibility mostly alone - even being asked.

A case in point is the Israeli legal practice of automatically awarding mothers custody of young children following divorce. This practice encourages women's financial dependence on former husbands and perpetuates the traditional gender roles that value a woman more as a mother and less as a leader, a thinker, an entrepreneur or an artist.

Yes, the benefits of parenthood in Israel should be acknowledged. At number 45, Israel's second-tiered grouping with the middle-income countries conceals hard-won advances in parenting rights. The 1954 Employment Law protects pregnant women and new mothers from dismissal, night work and exposure to radiation. Women who quit their jobs to care for newborns receive termination compensation. Women are entitled to 14 weeks' paid maternity leave, which can be divided by the parents. Since New Family's 2009 Labor Court case demanding that a male couple be given parenting leave and a birth grant caused the National Insurance Institute to cancel gender discrimination in its benefits policies, same-sex couples can take parenting leave and get birth grants. Today, men can take "maternity" leave.

While parenting rights already enjoyed by Israelis should be celebrated, the road to true gender equality is long. The root of the problem is that instead of fighting for economic equality, women are pacified by compliments on the effectiveness of their juggling act.

I think we have had enough reports ranking the endurance of women across the globe. It is time to fight for money, to demand equal pay, and equal sharing of the burden of raising children. I look forward to the day in which reports will examine how men juggle career and family, as they denounce wage disparities - by which women earn more than men. Parenthood should not force women to sacrifice their passions and aspirations. If the money and responsibilities were equally divided by father and mother, they wouldn't have to.

Irit Rosenblum is the founder and director of the organization New Family.

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