THE Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) is calling for the introduction of at least seven days of paternity leave, in light of upcoming amendments to the Employment Act.
“The Human Resources Ministry should introduce at least seven days of paternity leave for fathers in the private sector, similar to the current paternity leave in the public sector,” says Sumitra Visvanathan, WAO executive director.
Currently, fathers in the private sector are not legally entitled to any paternity leave, while fathers in the public sector enjoy seven days of paid paternity leave.
The Human Resources Ministry has announced proposed amendments to the Employment Act; the latest proposal, as of March 2019, includes three days of paid paternity leave.
WAO is proposing for at least seven days of paternity leave as paternity leave is crucial in promoting shared responsibility among couples, which benefits fathers, mothers, and children.
“Paternity leave will enable fathers to play an active role during childbirth and to adjust to the monumental life changes that come with being a father. Various studies show that children with involved fathers have better social, emotional and cognitive development, and perform better in school.
“Introducing paternity leave also sends the message that caregiving is a shared responsibility. Such changes in social norms would help women to stay in the workforce,” says Sumitra, highlighting a Khazanah Research Institute study which estimated that a whopping 2,563,800 women in Malaysia were not working due to housework or family responsibilities, compared to just 69,800 men.
Keeping women in the workforce would benefit the economy, she stresses.
Malaysia’s female labour force participation was only at 55.6% – one of the lowest in South East Asia – compared to 80.7% for that of men as of 2018.
A 2012 World Bank report estimated that if Malaysia were to eliminate the gender gap in labour force participation, income per capita could increase by 16%, she points out.
“Many countries have introduced paternity leave and it is time for Malaysia to move forward as well,” Sumitra notes, adding that WAO has launched a petition calling for at least seven days of paternity leave, which is available at: https://www.change.org/p/ministry-of-human-resources-malaysia-introduce-7-days-of-paternity-leave-in-malaysia
According to a 2014 International Labour Organization report, 79 out of 167 countries have laws that provide for paternity leave. Both the Philippines and Singapore have two weeks of paid paternity leave.
Most men still don’t take paternity leave.
However, a recent study by Promundo, a US-based organisation trying to engage men and boys more in promoting gender equality and preventing violence shows that legislation is only one aspect of change.
It is also important to change perceptions of gender roles and gender stereotypes in the society.
According to Promundo, about 90 out of 187 countries now offer statutory paid paternity leave, usually for a few days or weeks. However, its study in seven countries involving nearly 12,000 people found that fewer than half of men took the full time offered after birth or adoption, with Canadians the most likely to take no time off citing financial worries.
The State of the World’s Fathers report, released recently at Women Deliver, a global conference on gender equality held every three years, found about 40% of Canadian men and 35% of men in Japan reported taking no time off for their most recent children.
Fathers in Canada were the most likely to rank financial barriers as the reason for not taking more leave.
About 27% of men in Brazil took no paternity leave, 20% in Argentina, 18% in the Netherlands and 16% in Britain – even though most women say mothers would be in better physical and mental health if fathers took at least two weeks off.
There is no statutory paternity leave – or maternity leave – in the United States where employers determine the amount of leave offered.
British men came top when it came to using all paternity leave, with 44% taking the permitted two weeks off, while in Brazil about a third of fathers took the full five days leave.
“It’s an unspoken thing that if I take leave, then I am not demonstrating that I’m 100% dedicated to the mission of this organization and to my responsibility,” says Jane Kato-Wallace, programme director at Promundo, explaining the results.
Kato-Wallace says the report highlights the need for leaders in corporations and organizations to lead by example, by taking parental leave themselves to encourage others to do so.
“The norms and the cultures in the workplace are definitely something that need to be shifted,” she says.
The report also carried research by Promundo and the International Center for Research on Women on attitudes towards care work in 20 countries, with men asked if changing nappies and feeding and bathing children was the mother’s role.
Highlighting how the wage gap between men and women starts at home, the research found the majority of men in 15 out of 20 countries said changing nappies, bathing and feeding children was a woman’s job, a view held by more than 80% of men in Egypt, India, Pakistan, Moldova, Nigeria and Mali.
In Egypt, 98% of men said these jobs were for women, followed by 92% in Mali and 89% in Nigeria.
Fathers in Bangladesh, Ghana, Haiti, and Nigeria reported being ridiculed or taunted by other men or community members for taking up these kinds of jobs.
“There’s so much in the report that emphasises how these gender stereotypes – that some people may inaccurately believe are kind of a thing of the past – really remain so strong,” says Brian Heilman, a researcher at Promundo and report co-author.
“When you have all these expectations in the home, that’s part of what holds women back in their career pursuits.” – Additional reporting by Reuters