Swiss voters on Sunday voted to adopt a law mandating paternity leave, making it the last nation in western Europe to do so. Up till now, men in Switzerland had been allowed just one day off for childbirth – the same time given for moving houses. This is shocking as Switzerland is one of the wealthiest nations in the world and surrounded by examples of socially progressive models of childcare and parenthood. This shows how gender inequality in childcare – which in turn diminishes women’s status, rights and potential in society – continues to be a problem even in the first world. Thankfully, the Swiss have finally adopted a paternity leave policy that will give men 10 days of paid leave within six months of the birth of their child.
Nonetheless, clearly much more needs to be done to bridge the gender gap in childcare in both Switzerland and elsewhere. For, burdening women with childcare and child-raising duties compels them in most cases to exit the labour market, taking away their financial independence and their ability to financially contribute to the betterment of their families. This in turn demotes their position within families and societies, feeding the patriarchal narrative that women belong in homes. Hence, ensuring gender equality in childcare is critical to empowering women and helping them live full, productive lives. And when women have equal opportunities in workplaces and communities, they not only add to the talent pool, brain power and productive forces of the companies, communities and countries they serve, they are also able to take care of their children better by providing them assets, skills and opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
Therefore, not just for the sake of women’s empowerment and gender justice, there is good reason for men to take on equal care work for the betterment of their children and families. Alas, the gender gap in childcare remains quite big. According to Promundo, a global leader in advancing gender equality by engaging men and boys, in 23 middle- and high-income countries, the unpaid care gap between men and women has only decreased by seven minutes a day across a 15 year time span.
This is why governments need to step in and incentivise men to take on childcare work by mandating paternity leave. In India, unfortunately, there is no legal provision mandating paternity leave in workplaces. Although Parliament passed the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act, 2017, that not only enhanced paid maternity leave to six months but also mandated workplaces with 50 or more employees to have crèches for the latter’s children, it failed to countenance paid paternity leave.
The legislation puts the entire burden of childcare on mothers and, ironically, works against them by diminishing their professional prospects. In fact, instead of empowering women – which was the legislation’s stated aim – it reinforces the patriarchal notion that child raising is a woman’s job. Plus, by putting the entire financial burden of enhanced maternity leave on employers, the legislation has skewed the jobs markets against women as companies are now more reluctant in hiring, retaining and promoting women due to the maternity leave obligations.
The only way to solve this problem is to mandate paid paternity leave. And to reduce the financial burden on employers, a fund could be created through the mandatory contribution of all employees – irrespective of gender – employers and the central government. All paternity and maternity payouts could be then distributed from this fund. These are some of the provisions of the Paternity Benefit Bill that was introduced by MP Rajeev Satav on July 21, 2017, as a private member’s bill. The latter should be revisited in the current Parliament.
Thus, for the sake of women’s empowerment, for the sake of better parenthood and child raising, and for the sake of improving communities, workplaces, economies and countries, gender equality in child care and paid paternity leave must be promoted wholeheartedly.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.