Paternity Leave as a Powerful Tool for Improving Gender Equity

Dove has partnered with Promundo to promote paternity leave, with part of the campaign including “The Pledge for paternity Leave” where men and allies can pledge to support paternity leave policies. (Image Credit: Dove Men+Care)

A powerful tool to increase gender equity and strengthen families is to expand paternity leave, giving men greater attachment and involvement with their young children, and lessening the burden on women.

Dove Men+Care, in partnership with the global gender justice organization Promundo, is studying the impact of paternity leave on gender equality, and revealing the many benefits that accrue to employers, parents and society when men have greater access to paid leave and participate more fully in child rearing. (The article “Why championing paternity leave empowers men, women and business,” appearing on the Unilever website, summarizes some of these findings).

Globally, women spend significantly more time than men—up to ten times as much—on unpaid care, volunteer, and domestic work. By instituting paternity leave policies and encouraging men to be involved caregivers, the load is better distributed and gender equality increased. New research across seven countries (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Netherlands, UK, and US) finds that 85 percent of fathers say that they would be willing to do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months of caring for their newly born or adopted child, yet face significant barriers to doing so.

According to the Dove Men+Care white paper “Helping Dads Care,” fewer than half of the world’s countries offer any legally protected, paid paternity leave. Moreover, less than 50 percent of fathers take as much time as their country’s policy allows, and two-thirds of men are bothered by negative portrayals of fathers in the media which paint men as incompetent or apathetic. Only one percent of Japanese fathers took the 52 weeks of paid leave offered them, and fathers in a range of countries including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the UK and Canada believe that they are less competent at caregiving than their female partners. This comes with an important cost for men, as forty-three percent of fathers feel they had missed important events in their child’s life due to work commitments.

The white paper explores ways to reduce stereotypes and provide expanded opportunities for men to care for their children, including having access to paternity leave. The first step is the existence of a policies and laws that enable and promote paternal leave, the second is developing a climate in which men do not feel judged negatively for taking paternity leave, or fear that their work prospects will be diminished. The Dove Men+Care report builds on the findings of “State of the World’s Fathers,” a biennial study produced by Promundo examining global issues surrounding care work.

“Rarely do we have a policy opportunity that pays forward in so many ways for so many people. Universally available, equitable, paid paternity leave – combined with support for fathers to take it – empowers women, helps children thrive, leads to a happier workforce and enhances the well-being of couples,” notes Gary Barker, Promundo President and CEO. “The research, along with the stories of so many families and fathers, confirms again and again that paternity leave more than pays for itself in the benefits it generates.”

Promundo is a pro-feminist organization which focuses on the culture, habits and practices of men in promoting gender equity. Last year, I spoke with Giovanna Lauro, Vice President of Programs and Research at Promundo (Empowering Women by Changing Men: Promundo’s Global Fight for Gender Equality). Promundo was founded in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in 1997, working with young men in Rio’s poorest communities on transforming gender norms and concepts of masculinity. It has since taken that approach far beyond Brazil, and its aim is “to promote gender equality and create a world free from violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls.”

In State of the World’s Fathers, Promundo identifies five keys to “unlocking the multiplying power of men’s caregiving”:

1) Improve laws and policies.

2) Transform social and gender norms.

3) Guarantee economic and physical security for vulnerable families. Refugees and internally displaced families face particular challenges which can affect gender and family roles and impact men and women differently.

4) Help couples and co-parents thrive. Fathers need to build competence, confidence and skills, and good communication and shared decision-making between parents is crucial.

5) Put individual fathers’ care into action. According to Promundo: “Fathers need to step up – and in practice, this means individual men doing more each day. There must be a deliberate, collective effort to nudge men to do 50 percent of the care work. It’s vital to challenge the notion that men are “helping” rather than sharing the care equally. This means encouraging and supporting fathers to participate in groups with their babies and children, to build their confidence and skills, and to commit to sharing the unpaid care and domestic work equally with their partners.” Promundo attaches some specific numbers to this effort, noting that a minimum of 50 additional minutes a day is required on the part of men. The report calls on governments, employers, and members of civil society around the world to support men doing their fair share of unpaid care work by 2030.

Promundo notes the key role of unpaid care work in achieving gender equality, and credits the essential role played by feminists and women’s advocates over the last several decades in bringing this issue to the fore. “The inclusion of United Nations Sustainable Development Target 5.4 on unpaid work, the call to make visible the ‘unequal distribution of remunerated and unremunerated work between women and men’ in the 1995 Beijing Declaration (and even further back), and the Wages for Housework campaign in 1972 were just some of the milestones along this road.”

Dove Men+Care and Promundo will launch the Paternity Leave Corporate Task Force to increase the availability and use of paternity leave for all men. Its goal is to drive both short and long-term action to accelerate bringing the benefits of paternity leave to all – a significant enabler of UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls).

Since launch in 2010, Dove Men+Care has championed an inclusive vision of masculinity, expanding opportunities to care, and what it means to be a man and a father in today’s world. The Dove Men+Care Global Paternity Leave Standard gives all fathers at Unilever a minimum of three weeks’ paid leave, rolling out globally by the end of 2019. Earlier this year it launched the Pledge for Paternity Leave in the US in partnership with Alexis Ohanian (Reddit co-founder and spouse of Serena Williams). A one-million-dollar fund was also made available to support new or expectant dads otherwise not able to take paternity leave.

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Author: Tim Lehnert

Tim Lehnert is a writer and editor who lives in Cranston, Rhode Island. His articles and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, Rhode Island Monthly, the Boston Herald, the Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. He is the author of the book Rhode Island 101, and has published short fiction for kids and adults in a number of literary journals and magazines. He received an M.A. in Political Science from McGill University, and an M.A. in English from California State University, Northridge.

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