Traditionally, taking care of children is a mother’s job. That’s why working moms today always get a privilege of maternity leave (during pregnancy to post-birth). What about the dads? Well, since they are not the one giving birth… supposedly the don’t need biological adjustments and all, right?
Today’s generation support men’s involvement in parenting, but when 185 countries have statutory rights for maternity leave, only 78 offer paternity leave as well. Especially in the highly patriarchal region of Southeast Asia, equal parenting is a hot topic. However, only the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia instituted paternity leave policies.
The Philippines was the first ASEAN country to legalise paternity leave in 1996, providing married fathers with seven working days of paid leave at full pay for up to four children. In 2019, the Maternity Leave Act allows female workers to transfer up to 7 days of her entitled 105 days of paid maternity leave to the baby’s father, regardless if they were married or not.
In Indonesia, paternity leave was introduced in 2003 where the policy provided two days of paid paternity leave for a birth or miscarriage of a child. However, following the National Civil Service (BKN) Agency’s Regulation No. 24/2017, male civil servants are granted for one month of paternity leave at full pay.
Meanwhile in Myanmar, employed fathers are entitled to 15 days of paid paternity leave since 2012. But, eligible fathers are those who have made at least 6 months of social security contribution within 12 months prior to the child’s birth. Lastly in Vietnam, starting 2016 the paternity leave became state-sponsored. Married fathers are entitled for 5 to 14 days of paid paternity leave.
The benefits of paternity leave are linked to familial relationship, both with the mother and the child. It has also extended to business benefits. Mothers will get additional support from their partner which relates to faster heal after childbirth and even postnatal depression, in many cases. This translates to smoother transition for mothers to return to work, which means higher results for the industry as more female workers reenter the field with optimum condition.
Fathers’ involvement in the care of the child during its early years is linked to stronger relationship between father and child in the future. It is also linked to decreasing stress level and stronger marital relationship.
Despite the benefits, some male workers still hesitate to take the leave for they are afraid of being stigmatised in their workplaces. For example, in Indonesia, even though civil servants are granted a full month paid leave, most male workers only take 5 days off, according to Jakarta Employment Agency head Syamsudin Lologau in 2018.
Another barrier is due to high rates of informal employment in Southeast Asia, such as freelance worker. The government policy of paternity leave is only applicable to employees in formal field. This means that informal workers won’t get payment as they leave their work, which will affect their household economy.
Paternity leave means more cost for the industry and perhaps the household (if the father is an informal worker or the country does not provide paternity leave policy). Yet, its benefits are not for today, but for the future. In the long run, its benefits will result in parental and marital relationship. Besides, the time for initial bond with a newborn is not a moment which anyone can go back to. We can’t turn back time.