If our international peers are anything to go by, New Zealand shuffled backwards just an inch this week.
It happened when the Government passed on the chance to allow dad’s a free pass to stay at home with their families after the birth of a new child.
To be fair, National’s proposal wasn’t earth-shattering; give mum’s up to 22 weeks paid leave, let dads scoop a few of those weeks up and plonk them down alongside the time mum takes off. End result? Less total time off for mum, but at least dad gets a look in.
Currently, dad’s don’t really count when it comes to new kids in New Zealand. They get two weeks unpaid leave, and are allowed to ask their partners for permission to share maternity leave. Neither National nor Labour governments have seen fit to change that during their time in power.
But elsewhere, the arguments for paternity leave are well advance on almost all sides of the political spectrum.
Norway, for example, has had a “daddy quota” since 1993, which reserves time for dad to be at home with bubs. If dad doesn’t stay home, the family loses the leave. Other Nordic countries have since followed suit, and according to an OECD briefing paper from 2016, two thirds of its members now provide paid paternity leave.
New Zealand is among the one third that does not.
The drivers behind the daddy quota are varied. In Norway, incentives for paternity leave were increased in order to combat the “motherhood penalty”, which sees mums who take time off work for childcare reap lower incomes for their rest of their lives.
Essentially, policy-makers were hoping to create an equally powerful “fatherhood penalty” which would lead to greater gender equality in the country.
Since then, feminist groups have advocated for paternity leave on the basis that it smashes stereotypical gender roles, and creates more equal labour sharing at home.
But feminists aren’t the only ones who think daddy quotas have an important influence on society. Pro-family, conservative groups say more time at home means more bonding time between dad and baby, and the better that bond, the better the outcomes for bub. They point to research that suggests the father-child bond is critical to an infant’s development, and shows paternity leave is even linked to an enhanced relationship between mum and dad.
Not only is there broad political support for dedicated daddy leave overseas, there is also an abundance of research showing that it really does make a different in uptake levels. As the OECD paper points out, daddy quotas increased the amount of time fathers took off after the birth of a child in Iceland and Sweden when introduced. In countries with statutory paid paternity leave, at minimum one in every two new fathers uses the entitlement.
The most gender-equal use of parental leave occurs in countries with dedicated daddy leave, and pay incentives that replace 50 per cent or more of the parent’s wage.
However, in countries where paternity leave is not legislated for, blokes tend not to take up the offer of using the mother’s leave. This appears to be partly cultural, and partly practical in cases where men are earning more than their female partners.
Suffice to say that since we fit into that last category, New Zealand is behind the eight-ball on this one. Our international peers have been willing to recognise the importance of fathers at the birth of a new baby for years – whatever the motivations behind that recognition.
The Labour Government still has three years in power, plenty of time to put that right.
This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz