“I always wanted to be a father. It was great news the day my partner and I took the pregnancy test and it came back positive. I thought I was prepared for what was to come – or so I thought – because I had been involved in raising my younger brother. During the pregnancy, thanks to my partner, I understood that my responsibility as a father began from the moment we made the decision to become parents. I was clear that, after the birth, I wanted to dedicate myself to exercising my right to be a father. Especially in the first few months when everything is new and the baby is more vulnerable“.
The previous testimony belongs to Daniel, who became a father 5 years ago. His desire to be a dad led him and his partner to plan a savings and vacation accumulation strategy in order to be involved in the lives of their daughter and son. They anticipated that he would need to take an unpaid leave from work to have sufficient paternity leave.
The Panorama for Fathers in the Region
Daniel’s precautions were not unfounded. Out of the 26 borrowing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean from the IDB, only 18 have paternity leave policies. These leaves can range from 2 to 14 days in duration.
Some examples of countries with longer leaves outside the region are Iceland with 6 months, Slovakia with 28 weeks, and Spain with 16 weeks. These figures are an exception in Europe and the rest of the regions. For instance, in Switzerland, the paternity leave has been only 14 days for just 2 years. In Italy, it is 10 days. Germany, legally, currently does not have exclusive paternity leave and will begin implementing a 14-day leave starting in 2024.
Advancements in the regulation and extension of paternity leaves are a good first step. But they alone do not fully solve the unequal distribution of caregiving within families.
One of the reasons? Even though paternity leaves are more extensive, many fathers do not use these permissions.
Long Leaves, Wasted?
This low participation is not exclusive to specific regions. In the United States, only 5% of new fathers take at least 2 weeks of paternity leave. Similarly, in Chile, where paternity leave is 5 days, only 20% of workers exercise this right.
On the contrary, in Spain, as of 2022, according to data from the Social Security system, 9 out of 10 fathers took the 16-week paternity leave simultaneously with the mother.
There are several factors that can explain this behavior. In some countries, paternity leaves are not fully paid, these permits are often inflexible or come with work repercussions. Not to mention the informal employment sector or self-employed workers, whose conditions are usually considerably less favorable for exercising fatherhood and caregiving responsibilities.
An important key element to consider is the cultural stigma that exists towards men who seek to use their paternity leave. Towards men who want to redefine the meaning of “being a father.”
A Matter of Stereotypes
“The most challenging part was informing my workplace that I wanted to take additional time beyond the 8 business days provided by law in my country. I had many prejudices that made me believe I was asking for a favor at work. After much mental back and forth, I decided to approach my boss. To my surprise, he told me without any objection that I could take as many days as I needed“.
Like Daniel, fathers in other countries also express fear of receiving negative comments, strange looks, and even retaliation at work when requesting the full extent of their paternity leave. For many workers, the upbringing of their children has led them to question their own beliefs in order to balance their duties at the office and at home.
Facing these preconceived roles is even harder for fathers in leadership positions. A study conducted in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in 2017 showed that fathers without leadership roles were much more likely to take paternity leave as planned compared to their managerial counterparts. When there is greater responsibility, it translates into a perceived higher pressure to be present at work.
“I remember, with my second child, a few months before the birth, I was elected as the president of a committee in an international organization. In the first meeting, I mentioned that for the next meeting as the president, I would possibly be on paternity leave. The initial reaction was congratulations, but then comments like “how the youth of today has changed” or “in my case, I wouldn’t have been able to do that” started popping up. When the meeting time came, indeed, my child was just a couple of weeks old. Someone temporarily filled in for me, and it didn’t affect my presidency in any way“.
The Importance of Social context
In Daniel’s case, he mentioned that despite this, the greatest resistance came from his immediate surroundings: “The reaction of many people was one of surprise. Some couldn’t believe that my workplace approved a 3-and-a-half-month leave for me to take care of my babies. Others questioned the number of days, considering that men help less and mothers do practically everything. These comments came not only from men but also from women.“
This is a central issue, as shown by research in the American Economic Review, there is a positive impact that increases the chances of taking paternity leave by 11% to 15% when the new father’s coworkers and brothers have already done so.
This reinforces the conclusion that not only should paternity leaves be extended, but they should also be promoted with a narrative free from stereotypes so that they can be used without stigma.
There are initiatives and organizations that play essential roles in this matter. Some generate data and knowledge, which is crucial to understand what works best. Others create alliances between companies to enhance and improve these policies at the corporate level.
- Champions of Change: It is an initiative that brings together multiple companies and works for gender equity. One of its focuses is the promotion of shared leaves and the eradication of gender stereotypes.
- Leave For Dads: This business working group on parental leave aims to encourage more fathers to take advantage of paid parental leaves through the adoption of favorable company policies and the reduction of barriers in organizational culture and social norms that hinder their adoption.
- The MenCare Commitment: It is a global campaign that seeks to reduce inequality in caregiving responsibilities by encouraging governments and the private sector to take actions to close gender gaps in this aspect.
Exercising Fatherhood: An unique opportunity to transform societies
Why is it important to highlight the significance of shared leaves? They constitute a powerful tool for achieving more equal societies. By distributing caregiving responsibilities, women have greater autonomy to dedicate time to their professional careers.
Daniel affirms that “the narrative that women have a ‘sixth sense’ and men don’t know how to take care of children strengthens stereotypes of masculinity. It becomes an excuse to not participate adequately in parenting. And the gap keeps growing because the father’s bond with the child doesn’t deepen“.
This is crucial considering that the behaviors taught during childhood have a significant impact on emotional development and the family patterns internalized into adulthood. Moreover, gender roles fostered during this stage are also linked to caregiving behaviors towards the home, others, and even the environment.
What can we do to improve?
While the lack of rigorous data in the region prevents us from knowing the exact best practices, there are conclusions that we can implement:
- Promote mandatory, 100% paid, and shared leave systems. In the Spanish system, a factor that has increased the success of this leave is that if it is not taken by the father, it is forfeited. This has been crucial in allowing men and women to have comparable career trajectories and a greater commitment to parenting tasks.
- Adopt internal policies that protect workers taking their leave. Employment protection and non-discrimination are essential to incentivize fathers to exercise this right without facing retaliation. The region needs to increase policies to protect fathers against dismissal and ensure their right to return to the same job position while also encouraging companies to protect the rights of employees taking these leaves.
- Support and refrain from judging fathers who decide to take extended leaves. As in Daniel’s story, more and more men aspire to take active roles in raising their children. One task that we can all do is to encourage this practice in our close circles without passing judgment.
Let´s make everyday Father´s Day
Increasing paternity leaves in the region is crucial, but it is not enough to close the gaps in caregiving responsibilities. The data presented confirms that extending leave policies does not always result in fathers exercising their rights. Therefore, this occasion invites us to go beyond public policies and foster, within our close circles, the cultural change needed to transform the role of fatherhood.
We need to create spaces where fathers feel free and protected to take their paternity leaves and see them as their responsibility as well! Today, we congratulate all the dads and caregivers who are inspiring us with their example to believe that shared parenting is possible.