The difference between the parent and the state: Creating equality for parental leave

By Dajana Komp and Malakai Wade

Video by Dajana Komp and Malakai Wade

The gender issue surrounding parental leave typically affects women more than men. In Denmark, inequality is still present, but not the way one would think. The government is trying to make parental leave more equal for fathers.

The European Union (EU) wants to make a minimum of two months paternity leave mandatory for fathers in order to close the gender discrepancy in parental leave. Currently, fathers only take an average of 30 days off, while mothers take the majority of leave. This is due to several factors that parents experience in their lives.

Christine Sylvest Noer is currently taking time off for her third child. Because her husband owns a startup business, it made more financial sense for her to take the majority of the parental leave. She plans to take the next two years off while her husband works.

“It’s scary that something about kids now is going to be solved that easily, but it’s not easy to solve in that way[sic],” Noer said in regards to the EU mandate. She mentioned that the government does not see the needs or rights of the kids when making legislation. “Right now, the kids are losing,” she said.

Some parents choose to split their time depending on the benefits they receive from their jobs. Anna Brun Falkencrone chose to take eight months off while her husband took two because her job offered her better benefits. Falkencrone had a slightly different point of view about the EU mandate as other parents. She believes that it would be a fantastic way for paternity leave to be destigmatized if it was mandatory.

“I think it would help a lot of men just to make that choice for themselves,” she said. “They don’t allow for themselves to reflect on what value they would find in it [taking leave], they’re just too much focused on ‘what would this mean for my career?’”

When it comes to questions concerning women and gender equality in society there is an institution that aims to improve equality between both sexes and to empower women in all of its member states. UN Women is an entity of the United Nations and was established to leverage progress on these topics.

Two members of the Nordic Liaison Office of UN Women stress three reasons that explain why it is still difficult to distribute parental leave equally.

As a first step they consider making it legally possible to address gender inequality.

“Around the world I guess we can say that we have a poor legal framework for paternity leave and even worse mentality in using that paternity leave,” said Casper Wollberg.

“48 per cent only offer paid paternity leave of all the countries in the world”

– C. Wollberg

The second obstacle mentioned by UN Women is the consistency of social and gender norms as well as consolidated stereotypes and how to break them.

“Even though legislation is working towards more equality – ensuring more equality – there is still this big stigma of men taking parental leave within the corporations,” said Mahela Nilsson, another member of the Nordic Liaison Office. “How free is this choice of choosing it, if you know there are consequences.” With this statement she referred to the wide understanding of women as the primary caregiver for a child as well as the fact that companies often exert pressure that leads employees – especially men – to not take parental leave.

This also leads to the third barrier the representatives of UN Women see on the way to more equality when it comes to parental leave: economic and physical security. Families make the decision on who should stay at home to care for the children based on what is best for their economic situation.

“There is a clear correlation that if the man gets compensated accordingly they are more encouraged to take the leave,” emphasized Wollberg, and Nilsson added: “If you look at the workfield, the private sector and the public sector […]. This is just very much underpaid compared to the people who are doing finance and investments and engineering in just the private sector. Women are mainly dominating the public sector and thus getting less paid[sic].”

To gain parity for parental leave, many actions still need to be taken. Not only on the three topics mentioned. The different needs of individual families should also be considered, as well as the inequality rooted in pay and job availability for women.

This story is written for a broad audience with a focus on the Northern Eurodpean countries. This article could be published on www.cphpost.dk or https://www.economist.com/

Further reading that could add insight into the topic (not sourced in the article): https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ATAG/2019/635586/EPRS_ATA(2019)635586_EN.pdf