Why dads deserve and must take parental leave

Debates on whether fathers also deserve to take leave to take care of their children, or whether mothers are the only ones who are required to do so have been ongoing in the labour movement around the globe.
PHOTO: Pixabay

Parental leave has always been a major issue to deal with in a lot of countries.

Debates on whether fathers also deserve to take leave to take care of their children, or whether mothers are the only ones who are required to do so have been ongoing in the labour movement around the globe.

A book called Swedish Dads by Johan Bavman tries to bring up the theme and introduce how parental leave for both fathers and mothers is implemented in Sweden.

Swedish Dads is a photography book that features images of fathers in Sweden taking care of their children during their parental leaves.

One of the fathers featured in the book is Johan Ekengard and he recently spoke during an event at the Swedish Embassy in Jakarta to share his experiences taking leave as a father to help his wife take care of their children.

Sweden has had a long and progressive history as a pioneer of providing working parents with the rights to take paid leave in order to take care of their children.

It started in the early 1970s when the country introduced a six-month paid leave for working women and in 1974 the Swedish government extended this maternity leave policy to become parental leave by including fathers as well.

The Swedish government devised the policy based on research showing that children who are raised by both parents have better mental and cognitive development in the long run. The policy was also considered an important step in creating gender equality in workplaces.

Ekengard explained that when the Swedish government implemented maternity leave only, many companies were reluctant to recruit women.

However, when the parental leave policy was introduced, companies no longer had any reason to prioritize male applicants.

The amount of parental leave in total is 480 days.

Parents are eligible to receive 80 per cent of their salaries in their first 390 days.

Economy, however, remains an issue in the implementation of fair and balanced parental leave in Sweden, Ekengard said.

Despite Sweden's progressiveness in implementing the parental leave policy, the income disparity between male and female workers remains prevalent with the former having the advantage.

Therefore, mothers remain the largest segment in utilizing the parental leave facility.

Sweden's parental leave policy, which also includes fathers, might sound like an unfamiliar or odd concept for Indonesians who live in a very heavily patriarchal society that demands men work outside the home.

However, a few businesses have begun to incorporate a parental leave policy for fathers and one of them is Opal Communication.

Opal Communication chief executive officer and founder Kokok Dirgantoro praised what the Swedish government had done and he hoped Indonesia could also adopt similar, if not better, policies.

"I think that a three-month maternity leave policy [currently implemented in Indonesia] is not enough," said Koko, who was inspired to provide parental leave for his male employees after seeing his wife's struggles in taking care of his children.

Kokok said that he personally implemented in his company a parental leave policy that would give female and male employees six months and one month of paid leave respectively.

They also receive their full salaries and benefits.

The one-month leave for male employees is important because Kokok said it is the most crucial period for women who have just given birth.

He wants his male employees to be with their wives during this crucial period.

"In the first month after giving birth, women are exhausted both physically and mentally," Kokok said.

To make sure that the male employees do not misuse their paid leave, Kokok regularly conducts monitoring.

"I like to come to their houses to see if they are really helping their wives," he said.

Kokok also requests the wives of his male employees to contact him directly if their husbands utilize the paid leave to do other activities.

Kokok's decision has received both praise and criticism.

"Other businessmen tell me that I am acting like a freak - they wonder why I provide my employees with more leave days when most of them think that giving female workers a three-month leave period has already given them too much of a loss to deal with," he said.

Kokok added that his fellow businessmen were worried that if his policy became more popular, then the Indonesian government might adopt it as a nation-wide regulation.

This consideration, however, might be a bit premature.

Ekengard said that even in Sweden, which has been implementing a paid leave policy for both parents for decades, the idea of having fathers help with domestic jobs remained a somewhat strange concept.

Grandparents from the previous generation still find it hard to see men doing the dishes and changing diapers at home with their wives, according to Ekengard.

When the grandparents are not the problem, the lack of confidence from the men makes it difficult for them to fairly and equally share the task of taking care of the children.

Ekengard, who lives in Malmö in southern Sweden, said that he often got confused about what to do when his wife left him alone with the children.

Therefore, Ekengard said that it was very important for men to maximise their parental leave and network with each other so that they could support one another.

In response to Kokok and Ekengard, Wawan Suwandi, an activist from the Aliansi Laki-laki Baru (New Men Alliance), said that a shift in the society's mindset was important to invite more men to be involved in the development of the children.

"As long as there is this view that deems domestic jobs are not masculine, then it will be difficult for men to take more active roles in household activities and business," Wawan said.

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