A couple of weeks ago, following in the footsteps of Goldman Sachs and Standard Life Aberdeen, Vodafone Ireland announced a new parental leave policy allowing 16 weeks paid parental leave to employees whose partners had a baby.
Although the move has been celebrated by employees and equality groups alike, it highlights the shortcomings of the current UK paternity leave law, which permits new mothers up to 52 weeks leave and new fathers a mere fortnight.
Current laws mean that new fathers miss out on the important first stages of a baby’s life and this has a knock-on effect on mothers, piling on the pressure of being the primary caregiver.
After giving birth in May, my partner and I quickly adapted into a routine, taking each explosive nappy and night-time feed in our sleep-deprived stride. One of the biggest shocks was his paternity leave, with the three weeks my partner had off work – two weeks’ paid paternity leave and one week taken as a holiday – feeling more like a weekend.
A ticking time bomb, his returning to work sat smugly at the back our minds, tapping its watch, ready to call time on the bliss of our baby bubble.
My partner describes it as “spending three very intimate, full-on weeks adjusting to having a child, to then being thrown in the deep end at work, almost as if nothing has happened. It was tricky, especially in a job which expects a lot of you… there’s only so much you can give.”
In a society where outdated gender norms are constantly being challenged, why is it that our paternity leave laws reinforce the archaic expectations of mothers being responsible for child-rearing, whilst the father is thrust back into work?
In our progressive society, we need progressive policies for parenthood. Many countries have already adopted more equal paternity leave laws. Norway offers a mandatory 15 weeks’ parental leave for fathers. Japan has a whopping paternity leave period of one year. These are examples that the UK should be looking to follow.
If we’re going to challenge the historical and sexist status quo that places men in the workplace and women at home holding the baby, we must recognise them as equals and paternity leave laws are an obvious place to start.
Image: Vera Kratochvil