This month, women's rights are in the headlines, as a U.N. conference looks at efforts to bring about gender equality.
So men are the forgotten sex.
Only not entirely. A new UCLA report, which looks at "inequalities in legal rights for women and girls around the world" includes a surprising section – on paid paternity leave.
(Of course, this is an issue that is important to moms as well as dads.)
As it turns out, paid paternity leave could be an important step on the road to gender equality. Granting paid days off to a new dad sets a pattern for both parents to share the caring from the get-go and boosts chances for women to stay in the work force because they're not the sole caregivers.
Conversely, a study of American working dads by the Boston College Center for Work and Family found that "when men fail to become active co-parents in the first few months of the child's life, it sets up a pattern that is difficult to change."
Speaking of his paternity leave after he and his wife adopted a daughter, Wessel van den Berg of Cape Town, South Africa, says, "It made me familiar and comfortable with doing the work of caring for her and created a valuable bond of trust between us."
He was fortunate. His job gave him a month of paternity leave. But South Africa does not have a law guaranteeing such leave for all new fathers — although the parliament is reviewing a petition that would call for ten days off.
Currently, 96 countries around the world mandate paid leave for men after a child's arrival, either through leave specifically designated for fathers or parental leave which women and men can use. Scandinavian and most European countries lead the way. But an increasing number of of lower- and middle- income countries are also passing laws that mandate government-paid paternity leave. Think Gambia, Mauritius, Togo, Laos, Armenia, Azerbejan, Beloruss, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uzbekistan (see map). The number of days offered can range from two on up to 14 weeks and more.
And on the list of countries that mandate zero paternity leave is the United States. At least the U.S. is an equal opportunity denier. There is also no legally required maternity leave. For both parents, leave is up to the employer.
When leave is granted, the family benefits. Jody Heymann, dean of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, points to research from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showing that fathers who take leave after a child is born — especially those who take at least two weeks off — are more likely to be involved in childcare in the first years of life. OECD research also found that children with highly involved fathers perform better on cognitive tests.
Brazil is one of the middle income countries that gives days off to new dads. Since 1988, the law has guaranteed five days of paternity leave.
But that may not be enough. Samir Elrashidy, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, is the father of two.The five days of leave he took for his younger child, who's now 14 months, was "positive because it allowed the family to stay together during an important moment."
Brazil may address one of his concerns. A bill is being discussed to extend it to 20 days, says Marco Aurelio Martins, deputy director of the global nonprofit group Promundo in Brazil.
Meanwhile, in some countries men get paternity leave — and don't take it. One solution: incentives. The percentage of men taking maternity leave in Portugal went from .6 to 20, says Gary Barker of Promundo, after a 2010 policy promised an additional month of leave for men who took at least one month of paternity leave.
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