Why balancing maternity and paternity leave is a matter of urgency for gender equality

We’re very lucky to live in such an equal-rights focused society. But when it comes to maternity and indeed paternity leave, and you really think about the current situation analytically, things are still extremely backward.

According to freshbusinessthinking.com, currently maternity leave allows women to take six weeks off work for 90% of their normal pay. They are then entitled to a further 33 weeks at the lower of either 90% of their normal pay or £123.06 per week.

In a clear statement of complete inequality and unreasonable differences in gender expectations, men on the other hand are allowed a measly two weeks at the lower of either 90% of their normal pay or £123.60 per week. They can then request to take a further 13 weeks of leave but in practice, as freshbusinessthinking.com points out, a maximum of four weeks parental leave can be taken per year, and this time is unpaid.

Are we all that different?

There are those who believe that women and men are hardwired differently and this is why maternity and paternity leave must differ so vastly. I would argue that of course some men and women are hardwired differently. But you can’t just stereotype the entire race this way and have it reflected so harshly in one of our human rights.

There are plenty of women, who because of the way they were brought up, and because they perhaps had more opportunities and rights than their mothers or grandmothers, now feel it is their right, and in fact their desire for their primary role in life to be focused on having a successful career.

They want to break through the glass ceiling and be at the top of their game but time and again there seems to be a huge obstacle in their way. They do want children, but they don’t want to be expected to take months on end out of work to look after these children. But because the current laws surrounding this issue are so skewed they feel that to be the sole breadwinner is near impossible.

In direct reflection, there are an increasing number of men who want to be the primary carer for their children. They are more than capable of taking on this role, they want to take on this role, but for financial reasons relating to the paternity leave they are entitled to, they cannot take on this role.

So, I’m not necessarily saying that men must take on just as much responsibility for looking after newborn children as women do, but that there are plenty of families where both the man and the woman would very much like this to be an option.

Having a choice

In essence, I agree with what Anushka Asthana wrote in The Guardian; that even if maternity and paternity leave becomes equal and still women are more often the primary carers for their children, “isn’t it better for couples to have a real choice?”

To me, this is a fundamental problem for equal rights at the moment. Just because the woman gives birth to the child physically, it shouldn’t mean she has to bear all responsibility for it and be expected to sacrifice her career to look after it.

And this is just as important as the point that just because a man doesn’t give birth to a child physically it shouldn’t mean he has to forgo the opportunity to be the primary carer for that child, if that is something he wants to be. It’s not about forcing men to look after children, it’s purely about giving couples the circumstances which allows them to make the best choice for them personally. It’s kind of absurd for the government to presume it should be any other way.

By Sophie Hudson


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