Why Should Men Take Paternity Leave?
International Boys Day was celebrated earlier this year on 16 May. As is common, men were making comments, wondering why feminist activists were not celebrating boys as they celebrate girls, why people were silent, and the likes. However, we ask, why wait for other people to do something you think is important? The trend is commonplace and frankly, pathetic. Many times, the majority of men will centre themselves in conversations about rape/sexual abuse just to say ‘men get raped too’ but they stay quiet when, unfortunately, a man is raped or harassed.
This attitude is not only in relation to speaking up for men and those who have been abused, but it’s also about men’s attitudes towards taking care of their children. A good number of men are usually very absent from their children’s lives, right from childbirth. We also acknowledge that many people have present fathers, but this presence is typically limited to financial provisions alone.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that when a family has a new-born, the physical care of the newborn is left to women – the mothers and grandmothers (Igbo omugwo culture for example). This essentially creates and sustains the problem of men not knowing how to cater to the needs of their children/wards. In addressing what is a serious problem, especially because today 1 June 2020 is the Global Day of Parents, we propose that all of us take the solution of paternity leave.
What is paternity leave?
Paternity leave is simply a period of time where an employee is allowed time off work when his child is born. For couples who do not physically give birth to their children, but adopt or use other means, certain countries provide parental leave to enable them to take care of the infant/young child.
Who should provide for paternity leave?
It is not just up to employers to provide for compulsory paternity or parental leave; our lawmakers ought to include this in labour or employment laws.
In Africa, countries like Mozambique, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Rwanda, Seychelles, Gabon, Ethiopia, South Africa, Benin, Kenya, Burundi and Burkina Faso have provisions for paternity leave, ranging from 1 day to 15 days (Burundi). Others like Nigeria, Sudan, Ghana, Gambia, Egypt, Malawi and so on, have no provisions for paternity leave. Burkina Faso and Chad are about the only African countries that provide for parental leave (for either parent).
If there are no specific paternity leave provisions, a new father may be able to use his special leave, which are available for situations of family emergencies.
Outside Africa, the Nordic countries have some of the highest number of days set out for paternity leave with 54 working days in Finland and 90 consecutive days in Iceland. In Portugal, the prescribed period is 20 days but 10 out of these are compulsory.
From the above, not only is the provision for paternity leave absent in many countries, it is also grossly inadequate in others. Nigeria’s case needs statutory intervention.
What have international organizations done to help?
The International Labour Organization (ILO) has several Recommendations which provide for parental/paternity leave i.e. Recommendation No. 191 (accompanying Convention No. 183 on maternity protection) and Recommendation No. 165 (accompanying the Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention, 1981, No. 156).
According to these Recommendations, a period of parental leave should be available to either parent after childbirth with their employment rights protected. Prior to this position, the previous ILO Recommendations only included provisions on maternity leave.
This important change from only making accommodation for women who work and have kids to include working men with kids is a recognition of the fact that fathers should be actively involved in childcare.
Although this was an important step towards creating equal treatment and opportunity for working men and women, many countries, including Nigeria have not adopted these recommendations. There is still an imbalance in the laws that guide parental leave several years later. The year is 2020 and we don’t foresee change coming soon.
Even more noteworthy is the fact that those ‘special leave’ provisions we earlier mentioned are not specifically set aside for paternity leave. They cover instances of death or other emergencies and celebrations in the family. So what happens if an employee has already exhausted his special leave days and then he has a child?
Why do men not use paternity leave when it is available?
In countries like Japan and South Korea, where paid paternity leave is available to fathers, many men don’t take advantage of it. This is sad, and it proves the extent of our universal norm of leaving childcare only to women.
In these places, the fathers have flexible schedules to enable them care for their children, but the fear of being laughed at or stigmatized along with the obedience to cultural norms and perceptions about gender roles often prevent men from using the opportunity to take care of their children.
There still exists the widespread misconception that providing financially is all the caregiving role expected of fathers.
Our cultures and stereotypical gender roles fail to recognize the diverse ways men have a right to real parenthood, and the co-existing right of children to have present fathers, not just money machines. This culture successfully tells men that it is not their job to share unpaid household chores or childcare.
This culture is also very persistent, and as long as we have men who ignore their roles as caregivers, we will have children who keep learning that it is not a man’s place to do this, and so the cycle continues.
Furthermore, in Nigeria and other countries where people do not see the need for paternity leave, it is because the people, policymakers, and sometimes even the men themselves, do not recognize the importance of a father’s caregiving role for their new-born children. While we are still dwelling in this situation, evidence from research suggests that men who take paternity leave especially immediately after childbirth, are more likely to be involved with their young children and this in turn would have positive effects on gender equality in the home.
We can’t overemphasize the need to change these stereotypes. We must encourage fathers to take a more proactive role in family life. And as young men who want to be fathers tomorrow, you should look forward and work towards being present with your children and taking active care of them.
Paternity leave is a necessary step in the journey of making our homes more inclusive and equal. We must give men equal opportunities to be caregivers and fully participate in their children’s lives for balance in the family. If not, we will keep holding our women back by giving them the bulk of caregiving responsibilities to the detriment of their careers, and we will keep promoting the limiting idea that men should not take care of children.
Admittedly, paternity leave may not be a one-size-fits-all solution to promote the equal sharing of family responsibilities but it is a positive step in the right direction.
If we have a statutory right to paternity leave in our national legislation, governments, employees, employers, and societies as a whole publicly affirm that they value the care work of both women and men, then we would have taken a crucial step towards promoting gender equality both at work and in the home.
It just takes over your life when you have a child … I spent a lot of time at home with her for the first three months and with my wife, you know, it just humbles you. I think everyone struggles with being a new parent, everyone’s trying to figure it out and I think it’s a humbling process. – John Legend
Banji Oladipo & Ohotu Ogbeche are both lawyers, writers, and gender equality advocates.