‘I agree with Manto’

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is right.

These are not words I have often had reason to write. But for once I find myself on the same side of an argument as the Minister in the Presidency, with her statement yesterday that paternity leave should be made longer. Three days, she is reported as saying, is not enough.

‘We must encourage family friendly policies... which will encourage a paradigm shift in that employees of both sexes are given the same opportunities to organise their family and work responsibilities,’ News24 quotes her as saying.

In a world where women continue to feel pressured to rush back to work after having their babies, it is very important to have a key government figure put the brakes on. This is in wonderful contrast to the French justice minister Rachida Dati, who was herself back on the job within five days. This sets an unrealistic expectation on other working women to act similarly.

What is paternity leave for?

Three days of paternity leave was probably always too little. But it made more sense in an era when fathers were benign spectators to baby-rearing. Now, though, more fathers are attending the birth of their children, and participating in every aspect of child-rearing.

Paternity leave allows fathers to bond closely with their babies, to participate fully in every aspect of baby-rearing, and to provide support to the mother when she first comes home with a new baby. And to get some sleep!

By embracing a two week period of paternity leave, the Minister is making a bold statement that men have a caring responsibility towards their children that goes beyond child support. This will provide much-needed moral support for fathers who want to step up and be full participants, rather than taking a secondary role.

Supermarket chain Pick n Pay famously pioneered paternity leave in South Africa in 1987. But while policy might have followed in other corporate environments, the attitude persists that taking paternity leave or time off work to care for a sick child is a sign of weakness.

If the government can throw themselves behind the concept of men as caring parents, it will go a long way to breaking down stereotypes and allowing men to be the caring dads most of them want to be.

Do you think paternity leave should be extended? Are men getting too involved in their children to the detriment of their work ethic?
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