Lebanon News

Changing times put spotlight on paternity leave

A man and a baby take part of the 2019 Women's Race in Beirut, March 31, 2019. (The Daily Star/HO)

BEIRUT: Youssef is about to be a new a father. He also works a stressful job for an advertising agency in Beirut, pushing 12-hour workdays.

His wife also works a demanding job at an NGO and is planning on taking maternity leave. But as there is no official paternity leave under Lebanese law, Youssef worries he won’t be able to fully support his wife and be present for his newborn.

“I feel like there’s this idea that it’s the mother’s job to do all the work. Some guys I know wouldn’t even take the leave if they had the option ... I’d love to be around for my kid, of course. I’ll just tap into my vacation days to do it,” says Youssef, whose name was changed for privacy reasons.

This is the dilemma facing many fathers - and families - in Lebanon.

While there is no official paternity leave, Lebanon’s labor law gives mothers 10 weeks of maternity leave, paid by the employer and not by social security.

But recently, a spotlight has been put on paternity leave in Lebanon as Diageo Lebanon, the local arm of the international spirits company, announced that it would start implementing a six-month paid maternity and paternity leave policy as of July 1, making it one of the first companies of its scale to implement such a policy in the country.

In 2018, the Lebanese government approved an optional three-day paid paternity leave, but it has yet to go through Parliament to make it law. The draft law was submitted by then-Women’s Affairs Minister Jean Ogasapian.

The draft legislation allows fathers to take three days of consecutive leave - in addition to their annual vacation days - within a two-month period of a child being born.

Current Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman could not be reached by The Daily Star to comment on the issue.

“For me, three days is truly not enough,” says Rita Chemaly, a consultant at the National Commission for Lebanese Women.

Comparatively, the countries with the most parental leave include Sweden, where new parents are entitled to a total of 480 days of leave at 80 percent of their normal pay, with each parent having an exclusive right to 90 of those days.

Data shows that paternity leave policies have a direct impact on narrowing the gender wage gap. For example, a Swedish government study found a mother’s future annual salary increases by almost 7 percent for every month that her partner takes leave.

But establishing the policy is only part of the hurdle: Gender roles play a prominent part in the division of labor in most Lebanese households.

“In Lebanon it is very rare to see the father changing the diaper,” Chemaly says, adding that in a Lebanese household where both parents are working, a foreign domestic worker is the one to fill in the gap.

In 2018, Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that when the issue was brought before Parliament in 2014, Speaker Nabih Berri jokingly said “What, do they want us to give birth as well?”

Societal norms in Lebanon still place the majority of the responsibility of child care on women. Data from a World Bank survey on Lebanese women in the workforce showed that 70 percent of those surveyed believed that the wife was responsible for domestic chores.

Figures from the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Report show that women take on the responsibility of unpaid tasks, which the report defines as housework and care of the household. Among the 29 countries for which data was available, it was found that women on average spend twice as much time on housework and other unpaid activities as men.

Lebanon - along with Syria, Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan - is listed as a country where the gender gap for managerial opportunities is one of the greatest.

According to the World Bank survey, one of the main problems Lebanese women face in sustaining a career and remaining in the workforce is their responsibilities at home, which include taking care of their children. However, roles and responsibilities are changing.

With more and more women entering the labor market, women are increasingly contributing to the finances of the household. Chemaly says this requires a shift.

“Mothers and fathers are both working, so it’s clear that both need to parent the kids in an equal way,” Chemaly adds.

“It is important for both parents to parent their kids. I cannot parent my kid alone. I cannot be a mother and have the dad just be the breadwinner ... The cliche of the father reading the newspaper and the mother just cooking, this is not the reality anymore.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 27, 2019, on page 3.

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