Paternity Leave .. When Will Men Assume Their Responsibilities?

By Enas Kamal

The Arab world is still very far from achieving fair paternity leave. It can be said that this right, and increasing the number of days of this leave, has become a demand for women before men. This is what many feminist organizations in the Middle East and North Africa are calling for.

This right has become a requirement for women before men, in order to share with their husbands the responsibility of the new child. And not just for participating in receiving visitors and receiving congratulations and blessings for a day or two, which is what men and women must participate in in the first place.

What is paternity leave?

Paternity leave is what is granted to fathers when they have a new baby. Most of the time, some men are forced to take an unpaid vacation day and bear its expenses, to stand by their wives and stand by their wives on the day of birth, and the next day they return to their work, and perform their job duties, leaving the mother alone.

While the Arab and international countries grant maternity leave between 30 and 480 days, the paternity leave granted globally ranges between zero days or one day, and reaches a year at most in the Northern European countries, which have been proactive in achieving this step since the seventies of the last century.

In 2014, the International Labor Organization reviewed paternity leave policies in 185 countries and found that all countries, with the exception of Papua New Guinea, have laws granting some form of parental leave.

A report published by the organization in the same year indicated that 78 out of the 167 countries it studied recognize the right to paid paternity leave.

This confirms the trend towards increasing the participation of fathers in the postnatal stage and upbringing, in a number of countries in Europe, Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The United States, Papua New Guinea and a few Pacific island nations are the only nations in the United Nations that do not require employers to provide paid leave for new parents.

However, private employers sometimes provide unpaid, paid, or both, parental leave outside any legal framework or in addition to it.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed in 2018 that two-thirds of the world’s children who are under the age of one year, or nearly 90 million infants, live in countries where their parents are not entitled by law to enjoy one day of paid vacation.

It also noted that in 92 countries there were no national policies guaranteeing new parents sufficient paid leave to spend with their newborn children.

Paternity leave in the Arab world

In Egypt, the Senate witnessed a lot of controversy during the re-discussion of Article 50 of the draft labor law submitted by the government, according to a request submitted by 12 female members of the Council.

The original proposal was made by the member of the Senate for the Coordination Committee of Party’s Youth Leaders and Politicians, Muhammad Farid, stipulating a paternity leave of 7 consecutive or intermittent days during the first six months of the child’s birth. Provided that the employee is entitled to this leave 3 times during his service period. But the council rejected it and approved a leave for the father for only one day!

The situation in the Arab countries is not much better. The Labor Law in Kuwait does not provide any leave for fathers.

Bahrain approved only one day. It’s the same case in Libya, where the employee is entitled to only one day of paid leave.

While in Tunisian law, the father is entitled to leave for only two days upon the birth of his child, but there is a draft law submitted to extend the period to two weeks.

The Labor Law in Saudi Arabia, the father gets a 3-day leave, according to Article 153 of the Labor Law.

The situation is not different in the UAE, which approved “granting an employee who has a newborn a paid paternity leave for a period of 3 working days during the first month of his child’s birth, provided that the birth takes place inside the country. While the private sector employee is granted a 5-day leave within 6 months of the birth of the child.

Likewise, Jordan granted fathers paternity leave in 2014, for a period of only two days, according to the civil service system, then it became 3 days, similar to the private sector, after the system was amended in 2020.

Algeria joins the list of countries that grant fathers a leave for only 3 days.

Likewise, Morocco approved in 2003 a 3-day leave that can be continuous or separate, according to the agreement between the employer and the employee, provided that it is obligatory to be spent within a period of one month from the date of birth.

Nevin Obeid: “Paternity leave in Egypt … as if it never happened”

Nevin Obaid

“As if it never happened.” This is how the Chair of the board of trustees of the New Woman Foundation, Nevin Obeid, commented on the adoption of only one day as paternity leave in Egypt, in an exclusive interview with the “Sharika Walaken” platform.

She previously submitted a draft labor law to the  parliament, including proposals for maternity and paternity leave.

She said, “One day is not going to make a difference. This is because no one understands the philosophy of paternity leave. We always hear flimsy arguments saying that when a man takes paternity leave, he will not share with the mother the responsibility of taking care of the child.”

And she considered that “the response to this argument is that the law should be based on another philosophy, which is to improve the power relations between men and women in the family, so that responsibility becomes shared between them, especially in caring roles. And that it is not only the mother’s mission, to break the stereotypical roles, and this is what feminists are calling for.”

The approval of this leave, which many women and activists struggled to obtain, came in line with Egypt’s vision regarding new legislation for the Egyptian family.

On this matter, Obaid explained, “There is a vision of sharing common roles between the mother and father, and a change in the stereotypical roles of the state, but it needs to reconsider once again the issue of paternity leave and increase it by a week as a minimum.”

Perhaps the New Woman Foundation is one of the very few institutions that sought to establish fair paternity leave in Egypt, by issuing a research paper to amend the Labor Law and a statement on increasing it.

The institution, according to Obeid, also met with parliamentarians, including Representative Muhammad Farid, and is currently seeking to complete the process and meet the rest of the parliamentary blocs, not only to obtain fair maternity and paternity leave, but also to discuss amendments to the Labor Law.

As for the tactics needed to ensure fair paternity leave in Egypt, Nevine said: “There is no guarantee for legislative policies in Egypt, but we will do what we have to do, and we will meet with all influential parties in decision-making in Parliament.”

Abeer Shbaro: There is no paternity leave in Lebanon

As for Lebanon, which is one of the first Arab countries to submit a draft law for an official paid leave for fathers, President Michel Aoun referred to Parliament a draft law to grant this leave after the approval of the Council of Ministers and its signature by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Labor. Knowing that the Council of Ministers approved in 2017 that paternity leave be 3 days paid.

In an interview with the “Sharika Walaken” platform, the former advisor to the Minister of State for Women’s Affairs in Lebanon, Abeer Shbaro, said, “We do not have official paternity leave. The law did not approve giving leave to the father, but there is a special measure in which the Ministry of Labor requires employers to grant employees paternity leave for a period of 3 days.

The National Commission for Lebanese Women prepared a draft law stipulating 10 paid days within 3 months of giving birth.

However, the proposal was not studied or decided upon by any official body. According to Shbaro, it is a “modern project”, and she confirmed that she was not in the Commission at the time of its preparation.

It seems that the draft law at that time did not go unnoticed, as “men got agitated,” in the words of Shbaro, who confirmed that “the sexist mentality still dominates the scene in Lebanon.”

This was evident from the employers’ reactions, who revolted and said, “Will the men carry and deliver the baby themselves, so that they can take leave?’”, Abeer added.

She pointed out that “the mentality of people in Lebanon does not understand the importance of men’s role in supporting women in caring, and the importance of the father’s role, which is usually limited to economic activity, without participating in raising his children. So, the stigma and shame that affects men who play a large role in raising their children, confines mothers to the caring role only.”

As for the importance of the father’s role in education, she explained that “the mother may sometimes have to leave her job to raise her children, and this affects the general economy of the state.”

Abeer Shbaro is not satisfied with the paternity leave in Lebanon, so she considered that “we are still far behind in terms of a participatory view of the work of women and men, the appreciation of women’s caring and economic work, and the appreciation of the importance of the father’s role in caring for sons and daughters.”

She explained that “paternity leave was not on the agenda of the feminist movement in Lebanon, was not a priority, and was not demanded for. But recently, there has been a lot of talk about it by new mothers.”

She added, “In the private sector and in the academic sector there are attempts to reduce the gender gap by giving paternity leave. This is one of the tactics that guarantees fair leave, by introducing the principle of paternity leave and giving more maternity leave, which are things that are not observed by Lebanese law.

The former advisor to the Minister of State for Women’s Affairs believed that “parliament should be pressured to approve the permit by making it clear that raising children should not be limited to the mother, as the father also has a role in this process.”

She added, “Our customs must be changed, because the father has a great influence in helping his wife to be able to return to her work. It is very important to focus on mothers returning to work, especially female employees as an economic force, because the gain from this matter is great, and because the economic approach to this issue is different from the human rights approach, and we must take both tracks.”

Hala Ahed: Paternity leave in Jordan came after the struggle of feminists

“Contrary to what many people think that paternity leave in Jordan, which is 3 days, is a men’s demand, the truth of the matter is that it was a step that came after a struggle that lasted for many years for women and feminist movements in Jordan, and the International Labor Organization. But today it has become a requirement for men.” This is how the Jordanian human rights activist, Hala Ahed, began her interview with the “Sharika Walaken” platform.

She said: “In the beginning, the claims were rejected and disapproved. Then the resistance to the demands became less severe. A number of men advocating women’s rights supported it, but the majority rejected it because this demand breaks the desired or perceived stereotypical role for men. Also, many employers were against it because it meant additional vacations for employees.

Ahed considers that “the period of leave granted in Jordan is not sufficient to achieve its purpose, due to its importance in strengthening the role of the father in the life of the newborn, his awareness of his responsibilities and the sharing of the burdens of caring for him/her in an equal manner with the mother.”

She added that this leave “reflects positively on the life of the child who grows up in the care of his parents, instead of the mother having to send him/her to nurseries at an early age. It also contributes to the survival of women in the labor market and not dropping out of it to take care of the child on their own.”

But, Hala believes that “for all this to happen, paternity leave should be recognized for a period longer than 3 days, and it can be approved alternately with maternity leave so that both parents exchange care for their child.”

Ahed had an advocacy role in approving this leave, as it was part of the move to make amendments to the Labor Law, including paternity leave, by participating in the campaign for amendments during seminars, media interviews, and meetings with specialized parliamentary committees.

She considers that these amendments would not have succeeded without the efforts of the women’s movement and human rights organizations.

For many years, the list of demands of the feminist movement was to improve the reality of women’s economic participation in Jordan.

It introduced many amendments related to labor legislation, whether for female workers in the public sector or the private one.

She also led a number of campaigns to make essential  and fundamental amendments to legislation, to change the stereotyped image of women’s roles and support their survival in the labor market.

Fadia Kiwan: Hope for future generations

For her part, Fadia Kiwan, Director General of the Arab Women Organization, said, “Paternity leave is a step initiated by many Arab countries, with the aim of stimulating the father’s role in raising children. It is a way for men to notice that this role is not an exclusive matter for women but should be shared.”

She added, “Therefore, it may be a motivating step for men, especially young men and women who are currently getting married, to realize that married life is a partnership in all responsibilities, including raising children.”

As for the organization’s current role in this matter, Kiwan said, “The organization has a role in encouraging countries to adopt paternity leave. And in our future plan, we want to motivate all national agencies and mechanisms, and they are our partners, to take initiatives in this direction to achieve the goal, which is to make men aware of family responsibility.”

As for men in the Arab world not asking for this leave, she considered that “the matter will be achieved gradually with new generations of men who are more open to the idea of family partnership.”

Why don’t men demand paternity leave?

It is certain that all the feminists we spoke with in this article called for an increase in the number of paternity leave days in their countries, and considered it insufficient for the father.

But this comes at a time when men do not demand this leave in the first place, “except in Jordan,” according to Hala Ahed.

In Egypt, some men believe that they have no role on the day of birth or the upbringing of the child.

So Nevine Obeid said, men “do not understand the feasibility of paternity leave to demand it, while they see that their role is to discipline and punish the child.”

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