Minister of Labour Colin Jordan has shed a little light on what the nation’s first-ever paternity leave policy will look like.
While not giving too many details, he did confirm that it will be statutory – the law not the discretion of firms will dictate it; it is intended to be paid leave and it will also apply to adoption.
Of similar, if not much greater importance, however, is the motivation behind the legislation: “We view paternity leave, philosophically, as a provision that says to men and to fathers, ‘you have a role in the raising and rearing and training of your child; you are not just a sperm producer.’”
This is not to say that men have not been taking their roles of fathers seriously. A visit to any schoolyard after the bell has rung or to the paediatrician’s office or clinic will illustrate that men are increasingly showing up for their children in ways which have been viewed traditionally as the mother’s role.
But a recurring concern as this policy evolves, even among lawmakers, is the possible abuse of paternity leave. How will we know that a man who claims for paternity leave is truly using it to spend time with his family? How many children will be allowed at any given time?
These questions may be rooted in the “village ram” stereotype, where men are known (or believed to) be the parent of several children, perhaps of the same age. While there is no real way to ascertain this, it is not a significant enough deterrent to the policy’s development.
Also, studies of marriage patterns in the Caribbean indicate that marriage is not a popular option for many couples. Long-term cohabitation and visiting relationships are quite the norm. Therefore, employers may find it difficult in accepting whether their male employees are indeed the fathers of the children.
It is somehow far-fetched to believe that male employees would claim a child which they know is not theirs in order to be granted a few weeks’ paid leave from work.
Indeed, the pros far outweigh the cons.
Paternal leave would allow fathers to lend support to mothers and to forge a closer bond with their children at the same time.
Newborns can present several challenges and in most cases, mothers are left to battle these alone with their spouses or partners forced to be at work.
New mothers especially, stand the risk of developing postpartum depression, and those who gave birth by way of Caesarean section are left hampered by the procedure and often are not able to perform tasks they normally would have been able to.
Having the father of the child around in circumstances such as these would prove to be very helpful.
So far, Jamaica is the only English-speaking Caribbean nation to have initiated the conversation surrounding paternity leave.
Jamaica’s government announced late last year that it began facilitating discussions on the introduction of a Paternity Leave Act to encourage shared parenting, support and mentoring.
Until then, the Dominican Republic was the only country in the region with paid paternity leave – only for two days.
The issue of paternity leave is not uncommon.
A 2014 study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) revealed that 78 countries had made provisions for paternity leave, with 70 of them providing paid leave.
This was mostly found in developed countries.
Chile, Italy and Portugal have made paternal leave compulsory.
At the time of the study, no ILO standards existed concerning paternity leave.
Despite this, Government should be commended for its forward-thinking approach and for seeing the need for gender-inclusivity in the early stages of raising a child.