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Parental leave is not just the right thing to do — it’s also the smart thing to do

This article is written by Katja Iversen, President and CEO of Women Deliver and Gary Barker, President and CEO, Equimundo, and Sunny Jain, President Beauty & Personal Care, Unilever. 

A woman’s most important role is to take care of the home and cook for the family.

Do you agree? Strongly agree? If so, you are not alone. In fact, when the gender-equality NGO Equimundo and their partners asked this question in a survey in 29 countries, a majority of respondents of any gender in 24 of the countries agreed with the statement. 

As long as these attitudes hold strong, and are reinforced by policies and structures that place the responsibility of parenting and care only on women, we won’t achieve gender equality: at work, or at home.

Parental leave with impact

There is no country in the world, where, on the whole, men and women do the same amount of care work. How we change that is a difficult question.

But when we look at men’s involvement as parents, there is one policy that is proven to have a serious impact—and has showed strong gains this year: paternity leave.

In 2019, business leaders in Denmark joined forces to encourage legally protected, minimum 2-month paid paternity leave. The European Union put forward a directive that will make 2-month parental leave available to all parents. And in South Africa, the president and parliament worked together on a new package expanding the number of days fathers can take for paternity leave. Global evidence finds that equal, paid, non-transferable leave for all parents and caregivers are the hallmarks of a successful policy; one that not only has impact, but is also designed for individuals to take it.

Fewer than half of the world’s countries offer paid paternity leave

Paternity leave is also one of the most effective long-term investments in changing, challenging, and shifting gender stereotypes. When men take paternity leave, it affirms that caregiving is everyone’s responsibility, it helps improve pay equity, and makes it easier for more women to live out their full potential, get support, and climb the career ladder. And research shows that apart from the joy of being close to a new baby, men’s physical, mental, and sexual health improves from engaging in equal care.

There is a big want and need for men to be more engaged in caregiving, and men are eager to take it on. According to the State of the World’s Fathers 2019 report, 85% of fathers said they would be willing to do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months of caring for their new child.

So the effects are proven and the reasons are powerful. Yet, fewer than half of the world’s countries offer paid paternity leave, and when it is available, it is mostly for less than three weeks—and sometimes just a few days. Even then, many men often do not use their full allowance due to traditional gender roles, stigma, and fear of losing income or status. This not only hurts men—it hurts families, and it is contributing to the gender equality gap.

The good news is that more employers and national governments are taking steps to engage men as equal partners in caregiving. But even though this is good progress, it still isn’t enough. More of us need to step up.

A new commitment for our time

Equimundo, as co-coordinator of MenCare: A Global Fatherhood Campaign, and partners, including Women Deliver, launched The MenCare Commitment, creating a global initiative to achieve equality in care work by advocating with governments to take action to close the care gap.

Since its launch, MenCare partners from Rwanda, Mexico, Bulgaria, the US, South Africa, and from countries in several other regions have already agreed to think collaboratively on how to contextualize and build toward governments signing onto elements laid out in the MenCare Commitment.

To encourage and increase the number of fathers globally who take paternity leave and increase corporate leadership in getting us there, Unilever’s Dove Men+Care brand and Equimundo co-convened the Paternity Leave Corporate Task Force which brings together companies like Bank of America, Deloitte, Facebook, Twitter, and organizations like Women Deliver and UNICEF.

A gender equal world is healthier, wealthier, more productive, and more peaceful, and it should be at the top of the agenda for governments and the private sector

Together, they share good practices, raise awareness of the benefits of paternity leave, and encourage more companies to offer paid paternity leave and more men to take it. In 2019, Dove Men+Care also launched the Pledge for Paternity leave, asking new fathers, allies, and business leaders to make a commitment to support paternity leave. The brand also created the Paternity Leave Fund and committed US$1 million over the next two years to fund paternity leave for fathers lacking the financial resources to take the time they need.

But this is just one of the many necessary steps. We know that unpaid care of children doesn’t end after the first months of a child’s birth or after adoption; in addition to paid leave we need affordable child care, flexible time that extends throughout a child’s life and for other caregiving needs, adequate wages or for all caregivers and income support programs for the world’s poorest families. The notion that caring for the family and achieving gender equality is a woman’s responsibility must also be challenged and discarded. It is a joint lift, a societal issue, and everybody—including boys and men—significantly benefits when there is equality.

Evidence shows that men who contribute equally with their partners tend to be happier and healthier, enjoy increased income, time with family, and greater economic opportunities. And when children see their fathers equally engaged in domestic care and work, boys are more likely to contribute to their fair share of work within the household, and girls are more likely to work outside the home and pursue occupations that transcend gender stereotypes.

A gender equal world is healthier, wealthier, more productive, and more peaceful, and it should be at the top of the agenda for governments and the private sector. Establishing and encouraging paid, legally protected paternity leave is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing, too. — Katja Iversen, Sunny Jain and Gary Barker

Katja Iversen, President and CEO of Women Deliver, a global advocate that champions gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women.

Sunny Jain, President for Beauty & Personal Care at Unilever, where all fathers are given a minimum of three weeks’ paid leave and actively supports campaigns for change with Dove Men+Care.

Gary Barker, President and CEO, Equimundo, a global leader in advancing gender equality and preventing violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women, girls, and individuals of all gender identities. 

(Picture credit: Death to the stock photo)

This piece was originally published on Apolitical.

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