Do fathers play an equal and important role in raising a child?
There is only so much that one person can do. While mothers have traditionally been seen as the superwoman of the household, fathers too make a world of difference to their children and family by being present and involved.
As of 2014, 79 out of 167 countries reviewed by the International Labour Organization have laws that provide for paternity leave. These countries include many of our regional neighbours: Singapore provides two weeks of paid paternity leave, Myanmar provides 15 days, while the Philippines provides between seven to 14 days.
Yet, in Malaysia, fathers in the private sector are not legally entitled to any paternity leave—unlike fathers in the public sector, who currently get seven days of paternity leave.
To change this, in November 2019, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) presented a petition for seven days of paternity leave in the private sector, which has now garnered over 44,000 signatures, to the Minister of Human Resources. During the petition handover, the Minister pledged to bring the 7-day paternity leave proposal to the Cabinet.
This proposal is crucial for the following reasons:
1. Paternity leave promotes work-life balance
“I used to go karaoke after work. But after my son was born, I just want to go home and play with him,” says Chew, a father of 3.
Fathers want to spend time with their children. While mothers are more likely to give up their work to take care of their children, fathers often give up other aspects of their lives, such as time with friends. In particular, a multi-country survey shows that 85 per cent of fathers would do anything to be more involved after their child was born or adopted. In the United States, more than two thirds (69 per cent) of fathers responded in a national survey that they would change jobs to be more involved in caring for a newborn.
Kuala Lumpur came last in a Work-Life Balance Index designed by security company Kisi, assessing 40 major cities across the world. Paid parental leave is one of the factors that make up the index.
Implementing paternity leave will give new fathers a sense of support from their employers and promote employer loyalty which can affect their attitude towards work and indirectly, the quality of their work. A case study in Kenya shows that men perceive that they work better after taking paternity leave. Positive sentiments were reflected in the survey when fathers go back to work after taking time off when their child was born.
Many companies recognise the importance of supporting working parents and have taken the initiative to implement paternity leave. PwC Malaysia, for example, recently introduced a 30-day paternity leave scheme. “We recognise the role ‘inclusive workplace policies’ play in motivating and developing our people,” said managing partner Sridharan Nair.
2. Paternity leave encourages shared parenting
It is no secret that women are both physically and mentally vulnerable after childbirth. Support from their spouses is, therefore, extremely meaningful during this period.
Establishing a co-parenting system early on, not only eases the transition to parenthood but also benefits women’s careers after childbirth. Research shows that fathers’ participation in childcare enables mothers to return to work earlier and, consequently, strengthens women’s position in the labour market. This effect is further highlighted by a Swedish study that shows women reporting higher earnings for every month that their husband goes on paternity leave.
Paternity leave also mitigates discrimination faced by women due to the perception that the role of child-caring is exclusive to mothers. Women who receive adequate support at home are also empowered to perform better in their workplace. Taking up equal roles at home is the first step to acknowledging that men and women should not be discriminated based on gender in society.
3. Fathers play a significant role in their children’s development
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that children with highly involved fathers tend to perform better in terms of cognitive test scores. Paternity leave allows fathers to establish a relationship as soon as the child comes into the world, which encourages fathers to be more involved later on and engage in cognitive development activities such as reading books or playing board games.
“My dad used to bathe me when I was a toddler, and then when I got older he would read me bedtime stories as I wore my tiara pretending to be a princess,” says Bianca, who is currently reading Law.
Furthermore, healthy relationships with parents encourage children to cultivate better social relationships with others. Consequently, children with positive parental attachment are less likely to have behavioural issues, as they have a stronger sense of familial identity. Children who grow up in families where both parents are equally present are also more likely to replicate a more gender-equal model when setting up their own families in the future, perpetuating a virtuous cycle.
While industry leaders in Malaysia such as PwC, CIMB and IKEA have already implemented paternity leave policies for their employees, most Malaysian fathers who work in the private sector currently do not get to enjoy the benefit of nurturing a relationship with their newborn. As pointed out, paternal involvement benefits the whole family. These benefits, in turn, spill over to the wider community.
The way we raise our children today has a ripple effect on the kind of society and nation we will be tomorrow. Hence, creating a conducive environment for our children to develop holistically is an investment for our future.
Essential to the success of people and their nations are the values they adopt, one of which is the well-being of families in the community. Hence, it is time for the government to introduce at least seven days of paternity leave in the private sector.
Employers can also support working parents by introducing paternity leave that extends beyond the minimum requirements of the law. You can also do your part in making 7 days of paternity leave a reality for fathers in the Malaysian private sector by signing the petition at http://bit.ly/rights4parents.