THE government of Zimbabwe should seriously consider the adoption of paternity leave for men so as to advance gender equality.\r\n\r\n\r\nSwedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) country director Maria Selin told attendants at a recent Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce Women in Enterprise Conference and Awards that men who do not take paternity leave do not belong in the 21st century.\r\n\r\n“We know how difficult it is to get your career right and your home life balanced. In Sweden men take equal responsibility for children. A father who does not take paternity leave is not a modern man.\r\n\r\n“That is where governments should come in to facilitate child care and make sure that women actually go out and pursue their career, while men take care of children. The balance does not come overnight however,” Selin said.\r\n\r\nPaternity leave is a period of absence from work granted to a father after or shortly before the birth of his child. In more progressive European countries like Sweden, paternity leave is clearly enshrined in their labour law with vacations of more than one month being awarded to men to mind their children.\r\n\r\nIn England, Scotland and Wales, both parents can share the 52 weeks of maternity leave between them and paternity leave is paid at the same rate as maternity leave.\r\n\r\nA man can take up to two weeks ordinary paternity leave immediately after the baby is born. Ranked fourth in the world by the World Economic Forum for its stance on gender equality, the Swedish government wants to increase the leave to three months.\r\n\r\nCurrently, Sweden offers 16 months parental leave which can be taken by either parent, with two months apportioned to fathers.\r\n\r\nHowever, Labour minister Prisca Mupfumira said the issue of paternity leave is yet to be discussed by the Tripartite Negotiating Forum partners.\r\n\r\n“Right now, we are still discussing the issue of maternity leave and its benefits. However, once that has been brought to the table, we will begin deliberations,” she said.\r\n\r\nZimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president George Nkiwane said the union has actually been pushing for the country’s adoption of paternity leave.\r\n\r\nNkiwane said in their discussions with the employment councils, they had agreed on taking leave but the time to be taken had yet to be outlined and finalised.\r\n\r\nHe said looking at the current situation or job cuts, it may prove to be difficult for men to take leave if the wife is unemployed.\r\n\r\n“Why should we lag behind on international trends in the labour force? We should always be seen as moving with the times.\r\n\r\n“However, we now feel that the issue of paternity leave should be raised again as the recently amended Labour Act that was just rushed and bulldozed on people and does not include that provision,” Nkiwane said.\r\n\r\nLawyer and Harare West legislator Jessie Majome said it is discriminatory to only give women maternity leave when the child also has a father.\r\n\r\nShe said by taking on paternity leave, it may be beneficial to the country as children may become more grounded through caring from both parents.\r\n\r\nMajome said if the leave is introduced men may not be required to take a longer time away from work because of the differences they have with women. “It is quite surprising that the issue of paternity leave has not been brought up. If the law is passed as a way of social engineering, we may actually see a positive change in men who may take up the leave. The only problem — maybe from a gender perspective is that very few men may want to take the vacation and care for their child.\r\n\r\n“Society should be more imaginative and open-minded to the idea of paternity leave. If a child gets sick and needs to go to the doctor, the mother always takes on the burden and has to take time of work or use her leave days for such emergencies but men do nothing. That needs to be addressed,” Majome said.\r\n\r\nShe said as Section 25 of the Constitution provides for the protection of the family through State institutions, the State should also pay maternity leave and if introduced paternity benefits so that the burden does not lie solely on the employer.—Helen Kadirire