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Spain’s defense minister recently gave birth to her first child.
Yup, you read that right. The prime minister naturally called to congratulate her and then politely informed her she was fired. Just kidding.
No, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who has made a point of pursuing gender equality in his government and legislative proposals, did know Carme Chacón was pregnant when he named the 37-year-old defense minister. She took up her post at the beginning of Zapatero’s second term, when she was seven months pregnant.
Naming a pregnant woman to head the most stereotypically male of departments drew notice, good and bad. Pictures of Chacón reviewing troops just after being named, or hauling herself and her belly to Afghanistan to visit Spanish troops there are an exercise in retraining the eye, whether you welcome that change or not. Chacón is Spain’s first female defense minister and first minister of any department to give birth, according to press reports. Female heads of state and government are less and less uncommon these days, but few countries have ever had a female defense minister.
Old-guard soldiers and other who objected to her naming included among their public complaints the fact that she hadn’t worked with military affairs before, and that the birth would take her off duty for a period. Spanish mothers get 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.
But reports after the birth have now neatly explained how she would cover. Zapatero named the interior minister to cover Chacón’s post while she’s out, the defense ministry’s second in command will take care of the bulk of matters, Chacón will likely split her leave with her husband and, the reports noted, she will most likely be back in cabinet meetings long before her official leave is over. Next question.
So here’s yet another picture of how to combine maternity with work. The more that pile up, that more all these firsts can eventually be seen as something normal. (Although it looks like we’ll be waiting a while yet for that big first.) While women may have certain legal protections for maternity in Spain, and other parts of Europe, employers can and do circumvent those laws, including by simply not hiring women they think may get pregnant, because of what they see as extra costs with pregnant employees. As many feminists will remind them though, men too have physical issues that take them away from work, but those can’t even be planned for. (How about not hiring guys likely to break something during weekend warrier sports?) Not to mention that children are simply a fact of life, and a necessary good for society that society has to assume some degree of support for – even more than, say, roads.
Workers are human beings, not just minds linked in to the Internet 24-7 (or at least not yet). Do we not need to sleep when we’re exhausted, eat when we’re hungry, see sunlight on a regular basis? – all activities that take away from work time. Having the model of the defense minister taking maternity in stride like this is useful for both women and men. The more options that are seen as normal and possible, the better, for anyone looking to balance work with any other aspects of their life that are important to them.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 3:42 PM | Permalink

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