Paternity leave should be made mandatory
Singapore 9th February – AWARE called for comprehensive changes to parental leave in a press conference today, held at its Dover Crescent premises.
There are many reasons for Singapore’s low birth rate, but two important factors in trying to reverse the trend are better support for parenting responsibilities and policies that promote gender equality.
Studies have shown a direct correlation, in developed nations, between the level of gender equality in a society and its total fertility rate (TFR). When women have to bear the bulk of childcare responsibilities, they are less inclined to have children. Where there are policies that support gender equality and equally shared childcare duties between father and mother, more babies are born.
Singapore’s current parenting leave policies – four months for new mothers and none for new fathers – reinforce gender stereotypes of women as caregivers and men as providers.
These policies entrench gender inequality. These policies need to be changed if Singapore hopes to reverse the declining birth rate trend.
Specifically, AWARE calls for five policy changes:
● Make paid paternity leave of two weeks mandatory, with the cost shared between the employer and the state
● Convert the 4th month of maternity leave into ‘parental leave’ to be taken by either parent, with the state sharing the cost with the employer when the father takes this leave
● Offer a ‘parenting present’ of $4,000 to couples where the father takes the 4th month of parental leave
● Convert the currently mandated 6 days of paid childcare leave into dependent’s leave, with ‘dependents’ including older children and parents
● Extend to unwed parents the same parenting leave benefits enjoyed by married parents.
In making the call for these policy changes, and particularly for paid paternity leave to be mandated by law, AWARE finds support in the views expressed by 1,001 working parents in a recent survey commissioned by AWARE and conducted by students of Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
When asked whether they thought paternity leave should be made compulsory, 91% said yes. Of these, 93% explained that paternity leave would allow fathers to be more involved in parenting.
Half of the parents said their employers offered paid paternity leave, and of these the bulk – 59% – get between one and three days of such leave. Of the fathers who have a paternity leave option three quarters took the leave.
The AWARE-led survey was conducted by final-year Business Studies and Business Information Technology students who are specialising in marketing at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Business & Accountancy. Conducted between October 2010 and January 2011, the survey involved face-to-face interviews with 1,001 working mums and dads who have at least one child aged seven or below.
A significant number of the parents – 57% – said they would welcome having the option of transferring parenting leave from mother to father.
The joys of fatherhood
AWARE would like to see fathers given the opportunity to play a more active role in the care of their newborn babies, not just so that they will share the parenting load with their wives but also so that they will have more time for the joys of fatherhood and for developing a bond with their children.
This can be achieved by converting the 4th month of maternity leave into ‘parental leave’ that can be taken by either parent. To encourage fathers to take this leave and spend a month looking after their babies, AWARE suggests that a ‘parenting present’ of $4,000 be offered to couples where the father opts for this parental leave.
As employers might baulk at the idea of their male staff taking anything from two to six weeks of parental leave, AWARE suggests that the cost of this leave be shared between the employer and the state.
Currently married parents with children under the age of seven are entitled to up to six days of paid childcare leave a year. AWARE would like to see this converted into six days of paid ‘dependent’s care’ leave applicable to any working Singaporean, with ‘dependents’ including older children and parents.
This, AWARE believes, would be a more equitable policy as it acknowledges the needs of working Singaporeans, whether married or single, who have to care for aged parents or dependent siblings. Furthermore, children above seven years old will still need the care of their parents.
AWARE would like to see all parenting leave benefits available to married parents extended to unwed parents. Often it is these parents, and their children, who need the most support. Many are in their situation not by choice. Denying them parenting leave benefits is tantamount to punishing them, and their children, for being single parents.
AWARE’s position on this matter was shared by the parents surveyed – an overwhelming 91% said unwed parents deserve the same benefits as their married counterparts.