How Your Dad Can Advance Women’s Rights
The women’s rights movements of the 20th century focused on liberating women from restrictive traditional roles, and being equally valued in all areas of work and home life. The long revolution for gender equality begun, but has a long way to go.
While women made huge progress in the workplace, the early victories that provided additional opportunity, also created additional burdens.
Stagnating wages in the developed world meant single income households became far less common, but women were still seen as the primary caregiver. Expectations for both parents to work rose, but flexible work structures to support this did not catch up.
This is not a women’s issue; it is a family issue and economic issue and it effects all of us. As Judith Shulevitz said in The New York Times, “we need another feminism — and it needs a name that has nothing to do with gender.”
We need to recognize parents of all genders as equal caregivers with shared rights and responsibilities. So this Father’s day, we need to totally rethink how we see parental leave.
The argument is usually framed in purely financial terms and the cost that greater leave would have to businesses. But even where equal parental and paternal leave policies are in place, take-up does not always follow.
In 2013, provisions for paternity leave were in place in 80 countries and parental leave in 66, but studies still find that men are stigmatized for taking their leave entitlements and sometimes considered less worthy of promotion.
We need to reframe the issue. Parental leave is not about days off work; it is about the freedom to define roles, to choose how to invest time, and to create new positive cycles of behavior.
We need to show how much Dads matter. Fantastic action to show this is already happening at a grassroots level. Communities of men are coming together to promote the equal importance of their parenting – but they need to be heard more.
Al Ferguson from ‘The Dad Network’ recently sparked a wave of discussion on Reddit by posting a T-shirt that read: “Dads don’t babysit, it’s called parenting.” John Legend made headlines with his active support of paternity leave. It was positive for the attention it drew, but it also highlighted an important issue for male celebrity parents.
The business case is clear as well. Breaking the cultural stereotypes of leaving childrearing to women frees mothers up to earn more and develop their career. Sweden, a leader in gender equal policymaking and one of the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Champions, showed that for every month that fathers took of paternity leave, the mothers’ income rose by 6.7%.
More active involvement from both parents has benefits on the health and career prospects of the mother and child as well, reducing a range of long-term social costs for the state. Involved fathers and households that divide duties in a more gender equal way report improved maternal health at childbirth, lower rates of domestic violence, and improved career prospects for the children.
This is not a problem without a solution but it will require commitment and leadership from those in government and companies at a policy-making level, and efforts to change the stereotypes around parental responsibility at an individual level.
Innovation is never just a technological leap forward. Behind every business disruption is a behavior or cultural change that makes the change possible. Let’s use this father’s day to push for an overdue cultural change that could simultaneously strengthen our economies, improve the opportunities of half the workforce, and protect the well-being of the next generation.
Elizabeth Nyamayaro is senior advisor to the Under-Secretary-General of UN Women and Head of HeForShe Initiative.