Sexual equality and the question of parental leave

Written by
Changeboard Team

14 Feb 2011

14 Feb 2011 • by Changeboard Team

Equal leave rights

Reading the British press over the past couple of weeks you could mistaken for believing that the government is imposing some Draconian measure in order to further hinder small businesses from economic recovery, but ‘no’ actually all that is happening is that they are, at last, beginning to redress the balance with regard to parental leave.

There seems to be a somewhat unjustified preoccupation about the financial impact this will have, over and above the moral implications of the measure.
Equal leave rights have been in place in many Scandinavian countries for many years and have encouraged more couples to share the time off that they spend with their children but Britain has been stuck with a measly two-week break for dads in order to help look after baby.

Not only is this a bit harsh on the mother, potentially by herself to care for her newborn pretty quickly after parturition but isn’t it terribly sexist?

Natural instincts

Clearly there are physical reasons why women may be more tied to looking after their newborn (although it looks like breastfeeding recommendations are changing again) but where is it written that mothers make better carers than fathers? If the shoe were on the other foot, would women be morally outraged?

There are neurochemicals that are released in both sexes when baby comes on the scene in order to foster bonding and discourage abandonment, but it seems that there is such a fundamental assumption made about the ‘natural instincts’ and innate superiority of women in this regard that they are beyond question.

Joint parental responsibility

Implicit associations show us that many of us have a tendency to associate women with family and men with careers, even if this is happening at a subconscious level.

Is it this bias that makes our assumptions go unchallenged? Or do we have these tendencies because there really is something fundamentally different about nature’s roles for us in this regard? Perhaps, in the recognition that workplace discrimination has done so much to hold women back for so many years, this was the one area where women had some ‘compensation’ and was therefore untouchable.

Ultimately however, it’s the only chance that women have of achieving parity - if both parents can take leave then employers may cast worried glances at men of ‘child-bearing age’ too!”