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It’s Time to Normalise Paternity Leave

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Comment Editor Hanna Pham on Twitter CEO’s decision to take paternity leave and why this should be more normalised.

Newly appointed Twitter CEO, Parang Agarwal, made news when he decided to take a few weeks off for paternity leave.  And rightfully, Agarwal has been lauded with praise for his decision to take time off. But with the praise came backlash as well. Naturally, in a heteronormative relationship where two parents share equal work in caring for a newborn baby, paternity leave should be considered the norm. But, unfortunately, is far from that.

Twitter is setting an example for flexibility and accommodation for working parents as seen on the Twitter page, Twitter Parents in which Twitter employees, including Agarwal, are celebrated for prioritising their families. This is a welcome initiative, especially when considering that other powerful men typically downplay the importance of fatherhood and paternity leave.

Unsurprisingly, in 2005 President Trump when asked if he would help Melania change the diapers of their newborn son barked that he would not help. He adds to his misogynistic rant by saying that “There’s a lot of women out there that demand that the husband acts like a wife.”

More recently, Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, garnered very warranted criticism in which he said that “right now there’s not much I can do” in terms of taking care of his newborn baby, X, and that “when the kid gets older, there will be more of a role for me”, which he adds he did with his children from his previous marriages.

Musk is saying he is above the basic caregiving that men should be expected to do. Whether that be changing diapers, making sure milk is the right temperature or soothing cries in the middle of the night that’s for whatever woman is currently rearing his child, while he waits a few years to come in like superman and take them to the Great Wall of China as he did with his other children. Based on his recent mumblings, by the time X is grown up his fatherly contribution may be taking him to space. That is of course after Grimes changes every diaper.

This one statement helps to fortify the dangerous misconception that caregiving work for children can only be done by women. That their hours and hours of care are implicit to their identity as a woman. Babies benefit both from the caregiving of both parents, made possible by paternity leave—which appears as an afterthought by Musk and other powerful men.

The problem isn’t that men are willingly not taking paternity leave, but that there is no infrastructure in place for men to do so easily In the UK, guidelines for paternity leave are listed under the Shared Parental Leave, SPL. A mother is allotted 52 weeks of parental leave after her child’s birth and paternity leave is allowed. Of course, there is a caveat. If paternity leave is to be taken, a mother cannot use all her leave. Whatever remaining time is left can be given to the partner, but the partner’s leave cannot exceed more than 39 weeks. Confusing, right? As a woman in my early twenties, I thought the scariest part of an unwanted pregnancy was the child itself, but it may in fact be the unnecessarily complicated guidelines regarding maternity leave.

In a statement released by Maternity Action, the UK’s premier maternal rights charity, they cite that the SPL is a “horribly complex and failing policy.”  The statistics speak for themselves as SPL has only been taken up by 3-4% of eligible parents since its inception in 2006. Instead of this archaic, and frankly confusing system Maternity Action calls for a more straightforward six months of paid maternity leave, and six months of parental leave for each parent. But, government action to review the policy in place has been slow.

When I asked my dad if he took paternity leave when I was born in 2001, he just chuckled and told me it did not exist at the time. At least some progress has been made then that now paternity leave is recognised in a few instances, but there is so much more work to be done for it to become normalised—both on a systemic and socially acceptable level. After all, a parent’s greatest concern should be the well-being of their newborn child, not figuring out the fine print of their parental leave guidelines.

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