Reserving some of the parental leave period for the father is currently a hot topic in all Nordic countries. The Norwegian right wing has announced that they will do away with the ‘daddy quota’ if they win the election, and in Denmark the government’s promise to introduce the policy was recently put off.
‘We’re very concerned about the political signals from the right wing. The large proportion of women in the labour market is a competitive advantage for Norway, and if the daddy quota is abolished, the female talent pool in the labour market may shrink,’ says Kristina Jullum Hagen from the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), Norway’s major organisation for employers and the leading business lobby. Norway has just decided to increase the daddy quota to 14 of 58 weeks, yet there is a general election in September and the right wing has announced that they want to abolish the daddy quota. The families should be free to decide how to split the parental leave, they say.
The earmarking policy is being discussed in Denmark, too. The centre-left government consisting of the Social Democrats, the Socialist People’s Party and the Danish Social-Liberal Party has forwarded the earmarking issue to a working group for further discussion. The quota policy was initially part of the government agreement, but at this point the outcome is uncertain.
‘The parental leave legislation has become a highly politicised issue. In Denmark in particular, but also in the other Nordic countries. Should there only be a mummy quota, or should fathers be given the same treatment? Should the state regulate family life to achieve a more gender-equal society? Parental leave legislation touches upon some major questions related to parenthood and parents’ care and breadwinning responsibilities, so it only makes sense that opponents and supporters of earmarked parental leave react so strongly,’ says Anette Borchorst, professor in political science at Aalborg University.
5-month daddy quota
Gender equality supporters in the Nordic countries like to use Iceland as a good example. Since the year 2000, the country has had three months of the parental leave reserved for the father and three months for the mother. This year Iceland decided to extend the parental leave period by three months, with five months reserved for the father, five months reserved for the mother and two months for the family to decide about. The extension was supported unanimously by the Icelandic parliament and will go into effect in 2016.
‘In Iceland we’re very proud of being one of the most gender-equal countries in the world. Our parental leave legislation was poor prior to 2000. When we finally decided to make new rules, it was only natural to split the leave equally between men and women,’ says Ingólfur V. Gislason, Icelandic senior lecturer in sociology. He feels that the splitting of parental leave into three parts has been crucial to Icelandic family life. ‘Fathers have really used their quota. They have become closer to their children than in the past.’
Supporters of generous parental leave rules in the Nordic countries use two main arguments: More time off increases the presence of fathers and helps women focus more on working life. Finland currently has a daddy quota of six weeks and three weeks of paternity leave immediately after the birth of a child. However, parts of the political left wing and The Greens have since 2006 promoted a model with six months reserved for the father, six months reserved for the mother and six months that the family can share.
‘The emphasis on the role of the mother is stronger in Finland than in other Nordic countries. Strong voices in the Finnish debate claim that children should be with their mothers until age three. A daddy quota without an extension of the total parental leave period would be considered a reduction of the maternal leave, so such a policy would never gain broad support’, says Johanna Lammi-Taskula, researcher at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland.
The way parental leave has been shared in the Nordic countries has historical roots, says Sofie Cedstrand, analyst at the Swedish Social Insurance Agency whose PhD thesis analysed the historical processes that led to the different rules for parental leave in Denmark and Sweden.
‘In the 1970s, the Danish gender equality debate was just as intense as in Sweden, and there was a focus in both places on helping women enter the labour market. But in Denmark there was a widespread notion about protecting women and their special conditions. Swedish gender equality supporters managed to reformulate the gender equality discussion to an issue of gender neutrality and individual rights for both fathers and mothers, which made it possible for Sweden to introduce paternal leave as the first country in the world,’ says Cedstrand, who sees the same pattern in the Danish debate today.
‘In 2001, Denmark extended the parental leave period and also removed the four-week paternal leave requirement. But they didn’t touch the 14-week mummy quota. I see that as a remnant of the 1970s gender debate,’ says Cedstrand.
Nina Smith, professor in economics at Aarhus University, points to significant gender-related consequences of this attitude. In her most recent study, she found a dramatic effect of Danish parental leave, which is mainly taken by women.
‘Danish women are subject to collective punishment. They are basically considered inferior labour, and less resources are invested in them. The opposite is true for men. There are no collective expectations that family life will affect a man’s career. And men are severely punished if they insist on going on paternal leave, as it makes them look unmotivated in the eyes of their employers,’ she explains.
This is the very reason Kristina Jullum Hagen from the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO) is concerned about the right wing’s intention to abolish the daddy quota if they win the election. ‘We’re afraid it will give Norway the same pattern as in Denmark. It will throw us back to a situation where women have to carry the burden of parenthood. We are concerned it will lead to reduced job opportunities and less access to talent, since it will give highly qualified women a weaker connection to the labour market.’
Johanne Mygind, freelance writer firstname.lastname@example.org