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Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.


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As someone who has spent

more than half her career in

Muslim countries, I am used

to being asked what it’s like

to be a woman in the Foreign

Service. I developed stock

answers and anecdotes

ranging from humorous to


But it wasn’t until I was

posted in Sweden that I

stopped focusing on how

many female ambassadors

there were or how to inter-

act with male contacts and

started thinking about gender

equality, work-life balance

and what it truly means to be


Just as Americans find it

hard to imagine a society in

which women are denied the

right to vote, drive or be edu-

cated, Swedes find it hard to

understand a society in which

Stop Calling It Maternity Leave!

parents are not automatically

granted special leave on the

birth (or adoption) of a child.

One of my Swedish col-

leagues was shocked to learn

that new Foreign Service

parents do not receive any

parental leave and that the

colleague she thought was on

“maternity leave” was actually

using a combination of annual

leave, sick leave and leave

without pay.

Employees who want to

expand their families must

choose between doing so and

taking vacation, or doing so

and earning a salary.

Now that I am involved in

fighting for employee rights,

I hear story after story about

problems our female employ-

ees face when they make

the decision to have a baby.

(Note: Employees who choose

to adopt or use a surrogate,

including same-sex couples,

also face struggles that AFSA

is advocating to ease. How-

ever, for the purposes of this

short article, I am focusing on

pregnant employees.)

It is surprising that the dip-

lomatic service of the United

States—a country that works

tirelessly around the globe to

protect women and children

and to fight for basic human

rights—still treats its own

female employees in such a

way during what should be

one of the happiest periods of

their lives.

I am not a parent, nor do I

plan to become one, but I feel

very strongly about the need

for the State Department to

do much better in this area

and to become the model

employer it claims to be.

How could the department

do better? First and foremost,

take notes from the Depart-

ment of Defense’s recent

decision to grant employees

actual parental leave to deter-

mine how the Foreign Service

can do the same. Other steps

could include:

(1) Funding both parents’

travel from post to the U.S.

birth location. What kind of

message are we sending

about being family-friendly

if we tell the non-pregnant

partner that it is not impor-

tant for them to be present at

the birth of their children, or

to assist their partners before,

during and after delivery?

(2) Taking the no-cost step

of allowing older children to



MARCH 2016


travel to join the mother at a

later time instead of requiring

concurrent travel, forcing a

near-term pregnant woman to

care for older children alone.

(3) Authorizing per diem

during the entire medical

evaluation (MEDEVAC),

instead of forcing the mother

to be out-of-pocket or move

out of temporary lodging dur-

ing her hospital stay.

(4) Appointing a point of

contact for pregnancy-related

MEDEVACs and pregnancy

policy to provide clear and

consistent written guidance

to employees and manage-

ment officers.

(5) Matching pregnant

employees who are in the

United States awaiting

delivery with telework and/or

bridge assignments so they

do not have to burn annual

leave while able to work.

These are but a few of the

ideas that the department

could pursue to help support

soon-to-be parents.

I am pleased to report

that the department recently

formed a working group to

look at these issues, and has

invited AFSA to participate.

We are also working closely

with the employee organiza-

tion Balancing Act and others

to make sure that we have a

good understanding of the

wide range of issues affect-

ing employees who wish to

expand their families.

We are always open to

hearing your experiences. If

you have one to share, espe-

cially if you have a solution to

propose along with it, please

reach out to me at bryana@


March 2

12-2 p.m.

AFSA Governing

Board Meeting

March 6

Deadline: AFSA Financial Aid

Scholarship Applications

March 10

11:30-2:30 p.m.

Workshop: Spotting

and Solving Ethical

Dilemmas at Work

March 15

Deadline: National High

School Essay Contest

April 6

12-2 p.m.

AFSA Governing

Board Meeting


April 10-14

AFSA Road Scholar Program

“Diplomacy in Action: The

Middle East, South Asia and

Global Terrorism”

May 4

12-2 p.m.

AFSA Governing

Board Meeting

May 6

Foreign Affairs Day/AFSA

Memorial Plaque Ceremony

May 22-26

AFSA Road Scholar Program

“The Middle East: Conflict

and Controversy”

May 30

Memorial Day:

AFSA Closed