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The World’s Most Powerful Women: March 13

In India, only 27% of women work, and that deficit costs the country up to 2.5 percentage points of gross domestic product per year. Last week, India’s government made an attempt to rectify the problem by doubling its federally-mandated paid maternity leave from three months to six.

The new, extended policy puts most of the rest of the world to absolute shame.

India’s new 26 weeks of paid maternity leave surpasses France’s 16-week leave, and it bests the 14 weeks available in Germany and Japan. It also dwarfs Australia’s 6-week leave and the United States’ policy of giving women no paid leave at all. If India was an OECD country it would rank sixth, alongside Israel and Poland, for longest paid leave. Only the U.K., Greece, Ireland, the Slovak Republic, and the Czech Republic offer new mothers more paid time off.

Despite its generosity, India’s new law has its flaws. It only applies to the nation’s 1.8 million female workers in so-called organized labor. Another 16 million women, who are either self-employed or work from home, exist outside that classification and won’t be covered. There’s also fear that the new policy will disincentivize businesses from hiring women because their potential leave is an additional expense and could be seen as an inconvenience to employers. But a reduction in turnover costs could offset the benefit’s expense if the new policy causes fewer women to leave the workforce to have children.

More broadly, there’s hope that the new policy will make Indian business more accommodating to women. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for one, is convinced of its upside. On social media, he called the bill a “landmark moment in our efforts towards women-led development.”

 

@clairezillman

 

 

EUROPE/MIDDLE EAST/AFRICA

Pulling the triggerU.K. PM Theresa May could trigger Article 50, the mechanism for starting Brexit, as early as Tuesday. That could happen if she’s able to quell a rebellion in her own ruling Conservative party as the House of Commons votes today on whether to accept amendments related to the rights of EU nationals that the unelected House of Lords tacked onto a bill granting May the authority to split the U.K. from the EU.Bloomberg

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Not quite
Tesco chairman John Allan said last week that white men have become an “endangered species” on Britain’s corporate boards. “For a thousand years men have got most of these jobs. The pendulum has swung very significantly the other way,” said Allan, who’s one of eight white men on his own board. The numbers don’t substantiate his claims. Women accounted for 29% of directors appointed in the U.K. last year, the lowest since 2012. Says Ruth Sealy, professor at the University of Exeter Business School, “Yes, men have to work very hard to get these positions, but my goodness so do women. When as many mediocre women are appointed as mediocre men, we’ll know we have parity.”
Financial Times
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Ang and Vlad
As German Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to meet with President Donald Trump on Tuesday, the New York Times takes a close look at her relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders both came of age in East Germany—Merkel was born in the town of Templin; Putin was stationed in Dresden with the KGB—but they’re not friends nor are they outright foes. Their current rivalry—defined by mutual suspicion and respect—is now coming to a head as Merkel runs for a fourth term that would maintain her status as caretaker of Western liberal values. Putin’s Russia, meanwhile, is accused of trying to thwart her.
New York Times
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Tell us how you really feel
In 2015, Mhairi Black, 22, was considered a breath of fresh air when she became the youngest MP elected to U.K. Parliament in 350 years. But the job is not what she expected. Two years in, she says Westminster is a “depressing” place where she has to work with “people you find quite troubling.” She’s considering not running in the next election. “Professionally, it is more just that so little gets done,” she says. “[Parliament] is so old and defunct in terms of its systems and procedures—a lot of the time, it is just a waste of time.”
Telegraph

THE AMERICAS

New standard
As Big Little Lies premieres in the U.K. this week, the Guardian has charted the evolution of star and executive producer Reese Witherspoon from America’s sweetheart to Hollywood’s most powerful female actress. Her reach in the industry stretches beyond her screen presence. In 2012, she launched production company Pacific Standard with the goal of seeing “different, dynamic women on film.” Since then, Witherspoon has been remaking the cinema landscape, thrusting female-led films such as Gone Girl and Wild into a big-budget environment. Big Little Lies is her first foray into television, as both producer and actor.
Guardian
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Sweating with Sandra
Ever since Sandra Day O’Connor’s third day on the Supreme Court bench in 1981, an aerobics class she organized has been held at a basketball court above the high court’s court room. The class didn’t catch on with O’Connor’s colleagues—Stephen Breyer tried it once but didn’t like being the only man; for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it was too early in the morning—but it did become popular with local senior citizens who’d sweat alongside O’Connor. Since the retired justice, 86, no longer attends the class regularly, it’s vacating the Supreme Court building in favor of a nearby church.
NPR
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Petition for permanence
The statue of the “fearless” little girl that appeared last week opposite Wall Street’s famous charging bull is intended to be a temporary statement about gender diversity in the financial industry. But thousands of people are calling for New York City to make it permanent. A petition with nearly 16,500 signatures as of this morning urges the city’s mayor to let the bronze statue stay in the center of the world’s financial capital.
Fortune

ASIA-PACIFIC

Eviction notice
Two days after being ousted as president, South Korea’s Park Geun-hye issued her first public comments yesterday, denying any wrongdoing as she vacated the presidential palace. In a statement, Park said, “Although it will take time, I believe the truth will certainly come out.” She also expressed gratitude to her supporters and apologized for “failing to fulfill my duty as president.” The Constitutional Court’s decision last week to uphold Park’s impeachment ended her presidency and stripped her of presidential immunity in the influence-peddling scandal at the heart of her ouster.
Associated Press
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Just roll with it
Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi oversaw the ouster of Park on Friday. She showed up to the court three hours early that morning and did so with two pink plastic rollers still in her hair. A photo of the look went viral. South Korean culture has a tendency to poke fun at women’s appearance and weight, but Lee’s apparently rushed arrival was largely interpreted as a symbol of a hardworking woman who is dedicated to a demanding job. “Any woman who does her hair on her own has an experience like that at least once,” one tweet said.
Asahi

IN BRIEF

The risky lives of Nepali women sent into exile—for menstruating
National Geographic

Malala Yousafzai receives offer to study at U.K. university
Guardian

This clothing company hired a 56-year-old lingerie model because screw ageism
New York Magazine

Women make up just 27% of the Trump administration, according to new analysis
Fortune

Having lunch with 7-year-old Bana al-Abed, the ‘face of Aleppo’
Financial Times

PARTING WORDS

“If you call [feminism] a white movement, you’ve eradicated…hundreds and hundreds of people who I learned from, who were my teachers.”
--Gloria Steinem