June 2nd, 2015

Fixing the lopsided nature of parental leave

By Sumedha Jalote, Communications Executive, AWARE

man childThe findings from the 2013 Survey on Social Attitudes of Singaporeans confirm that all workers, regardless of gender, need work-life balance (“Work eating into S’poreans’ family time: Survey”; May 27).

It is clear that men want to play larger roles in caregiving and domestic life — 58 per cent of male survey respondents agreed that their jobs eat into family time more than they liked, a significant increase from 44 per cent in the previous survey in 2009.

There is much that employers and the Government can do to help everyone, regardless of gender, enjoy both economic well-being and a family life.

The introduction of the one-week paternity leave entitlement in 2013 was a good step. In addition, working fathers can also share one week of the 16 weeks of maternity leave.

But two weeks of paternity leave still give men little time to enjoy their newborn babies or become more confident caregivers.

The huge disparity between maternity leave and paternity leave compels women to play a disproportionately large role in childcare. This harms everyone: Men have very limited opportunities to spend time with their family, and women are given less support in fulfilling their parental responsibilities.

We call on the Government to consider further extending parental leave to give men a real opportunity to take on an equal role in childcare.

Parents in the United Kingdom, for example, can split up to 50 weeks of parental leave between them as they wish. In Sweden, 60 of the 480 days of shared parental leave must be taken by men.

Employers can also help all workers create balanced professional and personal lives.

Businesses must recognise that work-life issues affect all their employees, not only women. Many employers offer flexi-work arrangements such as part-time work or telecommuting. Access to these arrangements and accommodation for domestic responsibilities must be accepted as a normal, integral part of employment, not an exceptional concession, for women and for men.

It is critical for employers to be supportive of men taking parental leave. As Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam mentioned in a speech in March, employers in Norway expect male employees to take time off to care for children. Some even count it against men if they do not.

We would like to see employers go above and beyond legal requirements to create supportive working environments for all employees equally.

With support from their employers and national policy, all of us can achieve balanced, happier professional and personal lives.

This letter was first published in TODAY Voices on 1 June 2015.

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