Alessandro Fancolini knew that his life would change from the moment he and his wife received the news that they were expecting a baby. Nine months later, in April 2017, their son Gianluigi was born. For a period of fifteen days after that day, he experienced all the emotions, joys and surprises of being full-time with his newborn son, all together, as a family. Alessandro is the Business Development Manager at the City of Knowledge Foundation and he was one of the first parents in the organization to make use of the paternity leave benefit.

“I loved being able to have the experience of staying all day and night with my son for two weeks. Mothers usually have the hardest part of the job due to breastfeeding and it can be a very complex, difficult time for them, so they require the support of the husband, even if it is only moral. Nobody has a manual on how to be a father and this time with my son allowed me to learn and discover many things about him, thus strengthening the bond between us,” he explained.

Rodrigo Celis, Vice President of Operations, took his paternity leave just one month after Alessandro and agrees that it was important and extremely revealing to be at home during this critical time to get to know his son and, above all, to support the mother.

“Even though the mother is the one who carries the baby for 9 months, the duty of taking care of them is both parents’ job.  It’s not an easy job for just one person. All good hands are necessary; the learning experience as a parent has a lot of value for the future. With the videos and photos I have now, I can tell my son in the future: ‘You have no idea what we went through when you were born, but if you want to know, here it is!’ “, he concludes with a smile.

Parenting is shared work

 According to UNICEF, the father’s role in early childhood is real and valuable. UNICEF refers to studies that show that those fathers who take their paternity leave, particularly those who take two weeks or more weeks immediately after childbirth, not only tend to assume a more active role in long-term child rearing, but also their presence alone at home during those first days favors the early development of the child and brings benefits in several later stages of the child’s development.

In addition, according to the study “Maternity and paternity at work: the practice’s legislation around the world,” issued by the Department of Working Conditions and Equality of the International Labor Organization, paternity leave may exert a positive influence in terms of promoting gender equality, both at home and at work. For this reason, it can become a starting point for the necessary changes in gender relations and in the perception of fathers’ roles, as well as a factor of change for the predominant stereotypes that exist in Latin American societies.

Paternity leave: a right that is still poorly implemented

Despite all the convincing data, the implementation of paternity leave policies throughout the world shows great variations and inconsistencies (see infographic). While in the European Union, the average time granted for paternity leave is 12.5 days, UNICEF data reveal that two out of three infants live in countries where the father is not entitled to a single day of paid parental leave.

However, reality is changing because society is increasingly demanding it. In most of the world, the state of paternity is evolving: besides the reformulation of the idea that being a parent only means providing financially for the family, comes the transition towards a parenting culture where the father is present and active in the child’s life, regardless of whether the father resides with the child’s mother or not.

Data from the IMAGES survey in Chile, Mexico and Brazil, for instance, show that two out of three parents would like to work less to devote more time to their children. Also, governments are starting to give importance to the father’s role and responsibility of the father and companies are already moving in that direction.

Leading tech corporations such as Netflix and Amazon have understood that as employers, they play an important role in this change by providing better labor conditions, which, consequently, make possible a more equitable distribution of time at work and at home and thus, may help transform gender relations.

According Recode, a website specializing in business news from Silicon Valley, Amazon allows its employees to “donate” their spouse up to 6 weeks of paid parental leave (which can be extended up to 20 weeks in the case of mothers).

As for Netflix, they made headlines in 2015 when they announced on their blog that they would offer unlimited full-time paid parental leave for all its employees. “The experience we’ve had tells us that people perform better at work if they are not worried about the situation at home,” pointed out Tawni Cranz, Netflix’s Chief Operating Officer, on the company’s blog three years ago. 

Towards a growing participation of parents at home in Panama  

In May of 2017, the legislation that created the Paternity Leave took effect in Panama. The Executive Decree that regulates it, has eight articles establishing the conditions under which fathers are granted three days of paid leave, a benefit that may only be used once a year.

At the time, the law generated debate among the business spheres and unions in the country. Some industries’ representatives were concerned about the increase in the “social burden”, which in turn would increase all their costs.

On the other hand, due to the perpetuation of gender roles according to which the mother is the one in charge of childcare and the father provides for the home, in many cases the parents themselves don’t feel comfortable assuming a more active role in child-rearing.

However, given other countries’ experience, a change – both in social and business culture – is necessary for paternity leave to have a better reception in Latin American homes and to reach real equality at work and better work-family conditions.

The City of Knowledge Foundation (FCdS) is one Panamanian organization who understands we are at a crucial juncture for gender equality and the empowerment of women.  That, if we want to see full gender equality in the region, they should be real partners in matters related to their families’ health, their partners’ and their own, including the care of their children.

For Lacey Agredo, Organizational Development Analyst of the FCdS, business policies related to postnatal leave can make a difference and can be an instrument to promote gender equality or perpetuate inequality, depending on how it is implemented. “At the City of Knowledge Foundation, we have been very clear at affirming publicly that we value the work of men and women equally,” she says.

Months before the enactment of the Panama legislation, the FCdS launched its Paternity Benefit, which grants a paid license of 15 calendar days for all new dads. Agredo explains that with this benefit, they support parents so that they can enjoy the experience of caring for their baby since birth: “we want to continue making our employees’ work-life balance a priority and to recognize the work of men and women, without distinction,” she concludes.

There is a lot men can do in terms of child-caring and committing to a co-responsible parenthood. According to the 2017 State of the Latin America and Caribbean Paternity Report, children with hands-on, involved fathers, are more likely to form more equitable opinons about gender.

The truth is that through their policies and internal well-being initiatives, companies have a real impact that goes beyond the benefit of attracting and retaining talent.  This impact touches on our shared challenges as a society, such as advancing towards gender equality.

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