In England, the Cameron/Clegg coalition government has announced plans to change existing law to allow mothers and fathers to share a year of paid parental leave and receive government benefits. Under the plan, a new mother would be required to take two weeks off work immediately following the birth of a child. She would receive state benefits during that time. Afterward, she could either return to work or not, as she chooses. If she returns to work at any time during the year following the birth, Dad can take the balance of the year off to be with his child. He would receive government benefits during his time off work. Read about it here (Daily Mail, 10/11/12).
Ideally, this sounds like a fair and workable arrangement. Parents can decide for themselves how they want to divide up the first year of the child’s life. Any division of time is acceptable as long as Mom takes the first two weeks off. Fifty-fifty, 60-40, 75-25, etc., it’s all good. Except…
Under the plans, fathers will be able to take time off work and claim state benefits throughout most of the first year of their baby’s life – if the mother returns to employment.So Dad’s rights are in Mom’s hands. (Say, where have we heard that before?) That’s right, if Mom wants the whole year to herself, too bad for Dad. If he wants three months, but she wants 10, again, it’s his tough luck. When and if Mom returns to work, then and only then may Dad get time with his child.
Of course many couples will work out the division of time amicably, but what about those who don’t? What about the single mother who decides to marginalize the father in the child’s life? One good way to start that process would be to simply refuse to go to work. Presto, he doesn’t get to see the child except after work, if then. No bonding, no long afternoons in the park with the stroller, er, pram. And it’s all paid for by the state.
As if that’s not enough, there’s this:
To address fears from women’s charities, mothers will still receive the assistance automatically unless they apply to transfer it to their partners.That suggests that, even if a new mother returns to work and the child’s father takes paternity leave, he may not receive the government benefits unless she applies for him to do so. Actually, the above sentence doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s the best I can do with it. After all, the mother can’t receive maternity leave pay from the government if she’s returned to work, so what does it mean for her to “receive the assistance automatically?”
But whatever the case, it’s another example of placing the father under the mother’s thumb.
It’s late 2012. For decades now we’ve been inundated with messages about gender equality. So how is it that, at this late date, the government of a presumably enlightened country can propose a new law that once again radically discriminates against fathers? Would it have been so difficult to just say “mothers get six months of paid leave and fathers get six months. They can take those breaks at any time during the first year of the child’s life?” What’s so difficult about that? What’s so confusing? Yes, some of those mothers and fathers would be receiving state benefits at the same time, but so what? The out-of-pocket cost to the government would be no different from what it will be if the proposed plan passes. Into the bargain, Dad could be at home with Mom while she’s recuperating from childbirth which, under the government’s proposal, can’t happen.
When it comes to fathers and mothers, the concept of gender equality seems to escape everyone even though it’s pefectly simple. It’s also fair to all and beneficial to children. But it seems that governments everywhere would rather enact some Rube Goldberg system, just to keep Dads’ rights under Moms’ control. Amazing.