Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Parental leave, or: the pinnacle of injustice

The Yuppie of today can shop around for countries (and employers) with the best parental leave arrangements. I had a bit of a look around the internet today and saw that there are countries where men get ZERO paid parental leave. Very few countries today offer men the same amount of paid parental leave as women.

I think men should get the same amount of parental leave as women. If I had children, not only would I want to be able to have some paid parental leave, but I'd also like my partner to be able to take the same amount of time off. I think that if it's always the woman who stays home, that's exactly how imbalances in childcare arrangements fall into place. Why should women be the primary carer?


  1. My Grandma always said that women striving to be like men were taking a step backwards. I don't care for the insult that is insinuated there, that men are lesser than women, but I feel that when you try to be other than what you are, you give up your power. I don't know if I am your anti-feminist nightmare, a college educated woman who has taken the position of "stay at home mom" to my baby daughter. I feel that by embracing the beauty of my position and choice, I can do whatever I want and still be respecting my womanhood. Do you agree? I will tell you that we are at once very traditional and non-traditional. I stay at home and my husband works outside the home, but in our house it is recognized that I am doing an extremely important job. Sometimes my man comes home after work and makes dinner because I didn't get to it- he changes his fair share of diapers, and he stayed home with us for a month after our daughter was born. I am learning as I get older that there are so many shades of grey, and people can be so many different things all at one time. These are very interesting topics for discussion, and I sometimes have to be brought back to the realization that there are imbalances like this within our societies; out here in the sticks I have created my own reality.

  2. I think the problem isn't what people choose to do at an individual level that matters. Everyone is free to choose to stay at home (if he/she can) to raise a baby, or for any other reason. The problem is more that we don't always have the choice or that society pushes us in a certain direction.

    And the fact that women get more parental leave than men promotes the inequality between gender. Even if initially equalitarian, a couple will choose that the woman stays at home initially because it makes more sense, which might lead to the woman having trouble finding work afterwards and eventually staying at home. Also, an employer will prefer to hire a man because he won't be pregnant (which is not the society's fault ;-)) and also because he will take less, or not any, parental leave.

    An apparently small difference between genders (especially when coupled with tens, hundreds, thousands of others) can actually lead to some of the greatest injustices we witness today between genders.

  3. However, I forgot to say, I agree (being a man) with your Grandma. Women shouldn't want to be just like men. Unless the biology of the body prevents it (which doesn't happen very often), they just need to be given the same chances/opportunities in life. And same goes for men actually (which can't in most places be the one to stay at home to take care of the kids, as other people will despise him).

  4. Dear A.J.A., thanks very much for your comments. I'm pretty much with Stilltorik on this one. The argument I'm trying to make in this post is not that women should try to be like men, but that men and women should have equal opportunities when it comes to choosing whether they want to be a stay-at-home parent, or a working parent, or anything in between. The current situation is that men are discouraged from taking parental leave not only by tradition and stereotypes, but by the legal allocation of parental leave. Changing the law could help encourage more men to take parental leave, and create opportunities for those mothers who wish to purue their careers.
    I think there's nothing inherently anti-feminist about being a college-educated stay-at-home mum, but what seems important to me is how this decision is taken: is it really a free decision or is it because we are constrained by the way parental leave is allocated? What if the man wanted to be the primary carer, but the couple decided against this arrangement because he (unlike her) wouldn't be granted parental leave but would have to take unpaid leave (or worse, give up his job)?

  5. I have to say, I don't know if it is a difference between countries, but I kept wondering where you were getting this strange notion that one or the other parent usually stays home with the kids. I was going to say (as I have witnessed myself among our friends and acquaintances- among whom I am the exception)that my observation was that most women are going back to work as well as their husbands, and often rather quickly. Then I remembered that just because it is my perception, that doesn't make it so- so I decided to look it up.
    Here in the U.S., only 1/4 of moms with children under 15 are "stay at home" moms. Yes, there are far less "stay at home" dads, but the fact remains that there are just very few "stay at home" parents. And statistics show that the moms that stay at home were already staying at home. They are not dropping out of the workforce, as we were all told (I read Linda Hirshman's Get to Work).
    Also, in the US we have something called the Family Medical Leave Act that allows a mom or dad 3 months of leave time with the birth of a child, and without the possibility of recourse from the employer. It was important to us that my husband be home with our daughter too- which is why he took a month off. He is a teacher, so he went back to work for two months, and then he had the summer at home with us as well. We are lucky, but also he had to take some flack for taking the time off. His boss told him that he had employed women who "came back to work just two weeks after having a baby." I was infuriated at this remark- how sad that he considered that a positive. That we shouldn't all (as you guys are saying too?) be able to give our new babies some of our time- men and women alike. So here, anyway, I think that what needs to happen is more women and men need to be supportive of and expectant of the fact that dads should be a part of their child's life as well. And I agree wholeheartedly with your stance on paternity leave- I just don't see it as a man or woman option, because in this nation it really isn't.
    What are things like in the UK?

  6. Two other quick things-
    The grandma that made that statement was not referring to women in the workforce. She was the main provider for a husband and family of six kids. She worked until she was in her seventies.
    Also- I am not one of those Americans that thinks it is all about the U.S. I would be really interested to hear about how other developed nations weigh in on this topic. What countries were you reading about when you wrote this blog post? And naturally I assumed we were discussing developed nations and not countries that are still hashing out basic human rights issues.
    Thanks for giving me a lot to think about!

  7. Dear A.J.A.,

    thanks very much for your comments. Lots of different points there. Paternity leave regulations by country first:
    The countries I was reading about for this post included Ireland, Germany, Iceland and the UK (more details below), and then I checked out this chart on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parental_leave which compares a long list of countries around the globe, including nations in which human rights violations are much more prominent and severe than in others.
    I'm not sure just how accurate this chart is, of course, but I don't see a correlation between human rights violations and paternity leave. For example, I can imagine a regime which, while putting people in prison for speaking out against the regime, may invest a lot in the welfare state, including childcare provisions and even paternity leave. A different example: Argentina, a developing nation in many respects, is in fact one of only a handful of nations worldwide who grant full marital and adoption rights to gay couples. So, developing nations can have pretty radical family policies.
    And on the other hand, you will find countries such as the Republic of Ireland, which, while firmly reputed to be democratic and developed, does not grant men ANY paid paternity leave while women are granted that right. That’s just plain unfair. It is examples such as Ireland that shock me the most, though I don't know of any country where the legal conditions are perfect when it comes to distributing paternity leave between men and women.
    In Germany, men can take paid paternity leave for the same amount of time as women, and this leave is paid according to the same conditions as for women(67 per cent of previous salary, and a maximum of 1800 Euros). This sort of egalitarian policy is pretty inspiring, I think.
    Still in Europe, Iceland's policy appears to have been the most successful at encouraging men to take paternity leave (they oblige men to take 3 months paternity leave), as Iceland's men take 97 days paternity leave on average, which is the highest average in Europe.
    Finally, I just saw that the Wikipedia author claims that the "United States is the only Western country that does not mandate paid parental leave, although the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 mandates unpaid parental leave for the majority of American workers". Again, not sure how accurate the first bit of info is; the second part, you already confirmed.

  8. A.J.A.,
    It’s unbelievable your husband got slagged off for taking time off to be with your daughter. I guess it’s one of these things that shows that, even when men are legally allowed to take time off, society will find its ways to discourage him from doing so.
    Following on from your point, I agree that neither men nor women should be discouraged from taking time off to be with their children after birth. I don’t think women going back to work 2 weeks after their child is born should be the new norm. In fact, I don’t think it’s up to anyone except the woman to decide when she’s ready to go back to work. France’s former minister of justice, Rachida Dati, was criticised in the media for going back to work only days after giving birth. As if it was anyone’s business but hers!!!
    And finally, I agree that stay-at-home parents aren’t frequent in all countries, cultures, and across all social classes. In many countries, women are still regarded as bad mothers though if they do go back to paid work “too early” or if the go back to work fullstop. I find that really problematic. A very general conclusion on my part would be that I think both men and women would benefit from a more equal distribution of childcare. Wifework by Susan Maushart is a book I warmly recommend in this respect, though, as most things, I think it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. I’ll try and do a wee post about this book soon.
    Thanks again for commenting