Paid Paternal Leave: One simple trick to enhance gender equity
While we celebrate 26 weeks of paid parental leave (PPL) since July 2020, New Zealand is still lagging behind international norms and best practice when it comes to enabling parents to spend time with their babies. This is the case particularly for non-birthing parents (the Dads in most Mum-Dad families) and secondary caregiving parents in adoption situations.
This is despite evidence that Dads taking time off paid work to spend time with their families in the first year of their child/ren’s life can:
- lead to men undertaking a greater share of childcare and domestic work in future years (depending on policy settings), as well as normalising men providing this type of work
- shrink the gender wealth gap
- empower birthing mothers to go back to work earlier if they wish.
- strengthen maternal mental health and reduce post-natal depression and anxiety for birthing mothers
- enhance father-child relationships
- enhance co-parenting relationships.
“All these benefits can help increase gender equity ” says Leonie Morris, WWTM co-manager. “Enabling and encouraging men to spend more time caring for their babies is a feminist goal.”
Currently only 1.6% of those who take paid PPL in Aotearoa NZ are men. New Zealand does not ring-fence “use it or lose it” PPL for non-birthing parents at all, unlike around 75% of comparator countries (the OECD average is around 8 weeks). Internationally as well as in New Zealand, shared or ‘gender neutral’ PPL is almost always used by the birthing parent (or primary caregiving parent in adoption).
In addition, New Zealand’s weekly PPL income entitlement is extremely low, being at most 80% of minimum wage – and this has reduced from 100% of minimum wage in 2002. In contrast, around two-thirds of OECD countries pay at least 80% of previous wages as PPL. And higher weekly rates are important to enable parents who earn the majority of a family’s income to take PPL, without their family being unable to pay their bills.
“The patriarchy supports itself with a vicious cycle,” says Leonie. “Because men are still paid more than women on average, it can be harder for a Mum-Dad family to pay its bills if the Dad takes a drop in income than if the Mum does. So the system makes it more difficult for men than for women to take time off for child care, meaning women are more likely to take the income hit.”
In 2019, an intersectional feminist thinktank in Europe found that “perhaps the best example of the success of paternity leave is in Iceland”: both fathers and mothers are guaranteed three months of paid leave each, as well as an additional 3 months to divide between them at their discretion. The policy was introduced in 2000 to reduce the wage gap and increase the time a child spends with their parents; and between 2006 and at least 2017, Iceland had the fastest shrinking gender wealth gap in the world.
Last August, Minister for Workplace Relations Michael Wood promised he would oversee a review of PPL, including partners’ leave entitlements, by next summer. WWTM is calling for the Government to:
- allow co-parents to take PPL simultaneously if they wish, to reduce the risk of maternal mental distress;
- increase eligibility of non-birthing parents (currently as many as 1 in 4 Māori and Pasifika Dads in paid work miss out on even one week’s unpaid leave);
- substantially increase the weekly income entitlement maximum; and
- ring-fence a substantial number of “use it or lose it” PPL weeks for non-birthing parents – for example a further 26 PPL weeks could be added for non-birthing parents.
“Enabling and encouraging more Dads to spend time with their families would be a hard-working policy for the government – effective in helping to meet both gender equity goals and other social wellbeing objectives as well,” says Leonie.