The actress -- who became a mother for the first time last March and is a goodwill ambassador the U.N. -- spoke about how her personal experiences as a parent have informed her stance on the issue.
Under current law, the Family and Medical Leave Act, caregivers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for childbirth and other reasons.
"That information landed differently for me when one week after my son's birth I could barely walk. That information landed differently when I was getting to know a human who was completely dependent on my husband and I for everything, when I was dependent on my husband for most things and when we were re-learning everything we thought we knew about our family and our relationship," she said.
"Somehow we and every American parent were expected to be back to normal in under three months without income. I remember thinking to myself, 'If the practical reality of pregnancy is another mouth to feed in your home and America is a country where most people are living paycheck to paycheck, how does 12 weeks of unpaid leave economically work?' The truth is for too many people it doesn't."
Certain states (and companies) offer additional protections beyond the 12 unpaid weeks guaranteed by federal law. For instance, New York plans to roll out 12 weeks of paid leave over a period of years.
Hathaway, 34, became a goodwill ambassador to the U.N. Women last June. The organization announced at that time that the Oscar winner would spotlight issues including parental leave, gender stereotypes and affordable childcare services. In her speech on Wednesday, she argued that men also deserve paid leave after the birth of a child, especially in an age when some families include two fathers.
"The assumption and common practice that women and girls look after the home and the family is a stubborn and very real stereotype that not only discriminates against women, but limits men's participation and connection within the family and society," she said. "Why do we continue to undervalue fathers and overburden mothers? Paid parental leave is not about taking days off work. It's about creating the freedom to define roles, to choose how to invest time and to establish new positive cycles of behavior."
The issue of paid leave impacts everybody, she added.
"Let [the UN] lead by example in creating a world in which women and men are not economically punished for wanting to be parents," she said. "Whether you have or want kids you will benefit by living in a more evolved world with policies not based on gender. We all benefit from living in a more compassionate time where our needs do not make us weak - they make us fully human."