A quota for fathers in Malta to take more parental leave is key to better gender equality on the island, according to a local association.
“For so many years we’ve been talking equality of rights and not equality of burdens,” Anna Borg, a gender expert and chairperson of the Association for Equality explained to Lovin Malta.
“In Malta, we’ve made good progress in terms of rights and law, but women are still taking the brunt of child-caring and other domestic labour.”
Borg noted that while mothers in Malta get 18 weeks of paid maternity leave, men are entitled to just a single day.
Couples are also entitled to four months of unpaid parental leave, which is overwhelmingly taken by the mother.
“In the eyes of an employer, having a man on-board can make more sense financially. He’s less likely to take parental leave or take a half-day off to pick up children after school.”
“We expect women to shoulder that responsibility, meaning they’re less likely to scale up the corporate ladder or advance her career as fast as a man,” Borg said.
Therefore, if Malta wants to achieve gender equality it needs to focus on burden-sharing in the family unit.
A quota to force fathers to take a minimum amount of parental leave could help even out domestic labour, while also giving men more time to bond with their children.
“We’re seeing a lot of younger fathers who want to take on a bigger role in the upbringing of their children. However in Malta, as with many places, there are huge stigmas against fathers taking leave.”
“If we really want to change things, we need to close the ‘caring gaps’, and make sure both the mother and father carry out the “unpaid” caring work a little more equally,” Borg continued.
The Associate for Equality calls for a quasi-equal amount of paternal and maternal leave when possible.
“Leave cannot always be solely taken by the mother, or else it will be lost,” Borg said.
Another issue preventing men from taking time off to care for their children is it could be unpaid.
“Research shows that men only take leave when it’s really well-paid, close to 100%, so it might not make sense for them to take leave financially, especially if they’re juggling a new-born, loans and other expenses in the face of a pandemic,” she added.
Borg believes that leave should be majorly paid for by the government.
Malta has a good opportunity to act on such a proposal soon. The country needs to transpose the EU’s Work-life Balance Directive into national law within the next year.
The directive could be crucial to ease women’s share of child-caring responsibilities, by providing support for better work-life balance, encourage more equal sharing of parental leave and addressing women’s underrepresentation in the labour market.
Measures in the directive include the introduction of paternity leave. Under the law, fathers in the EU should be able to take at least 10 working days of paternity leave around the birth time of their child, compensated at least at the level of sick pay.
Additionally, it would ensure that two out of the four months of parental leave are non-transferable between parents and allow more flexibility for working parents of children up to eight years old.
“The problem of gender equality doesn’t start at work, it begins at home,” Borg finished.
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