Wednesday 24 January 2018

Carol Hunt: Force men to take paternity leave, we mammies need it

Even though International Women's Day doesn't fall until Sunday, much of this week has been put aside for vaying events involving what are often dismissively described as "women's issues".

Cue the predictable reaction: "A whole week? Just for women? Isn't that a bit excessive? As well as sexist? What about men's week? When is that?"

Well, no, I wouldn't consider it sexist or excessive, not when you consider that the other 51 weeks of the year most definitely belong to men.

Yesterday I took part in an event held by the European Commission Representation in Ireland titled "We need to talk about childcare".


We need to. Ireland has the highest childcare costs in the EU: 35pc of a family's income compared with the European average of 12pc.

The main speaker was Dr James Reilly, the Minister for Children. Yes, I know he's a man, but he had lots of news to tell us wimmin - about the excellent work the Government is doing to tackle the childcare problem.

Which of course has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that there's an election looming.

To be fair, and not totally cynical, Dr Reilly seems to be putting his money where his mouth is (or rather our money): he's heading an interdepartmental group charged with looking at the cost of options like extra pre-school years and after-school care.

Meanwhile, Minister of State Aodhan O'Riordan insisted last week that his proposal of introducing two weeks of paid paternity leave will be in place this year.

This has startled the boyos in Ibec, who have said: "Although businesses recognise and support the importance of achieving a balance between work and family life, any proposal for a period of maternity leave to be shared with the father is likely to result in a disproportionate burden for employers."

And here lies the root of every bloody problem we have with the lack of decent childcare in this country - it's deemed a woman's issue.

Remember Mark Fielding from ISME saying: "If there are two candidates and one is a buxom young woman of child-rearing years and the other is a fellow, who is an employer going to hire when he or she knows that they will have to pay 20 weeks maternity leave?"

Fielding was right. I've spoken to quite a few business owners and they have, reluctantly, agreed that maternity leave is always on their mind when hiring.

Two weeks of leave for fathers, though a step in the right direction, won't work for two reasons.

First, most of them won't take it.

Unless it's compulsory (and they are threatened with being hanged, drawn and quartered if they don't accept), men will be socially pressured into going to work as usual, both by their employers and their peers - sure, wouldn't the country collapse if they didn't?

Secondly, two weeks care on the part of men is still a far cry from what women are entitled to.

I recall when I got married that both myself and my partner agreed that if we ever had children we would care for them equally.

Ha! I was still in the maternity ward when himself had to run off for a "very important-meeting" which of course couldn't be missed no matter how many children there were to be looked after.


Fifteen years later and I'm still the primary child-minder: me and the vast majority of other Irish mammies.

Because we give birth to the child, we are, in the main, the ones left holding the baby.

I strongly suspect that if the boys were under no illusions about having to share the care of their children from birth onwards, we'd have a childcare system in place that surpassed that of the much-vaunted Nordic countries.

We'd also have a much fairer employment system if employers knew that both men and women were likely to take a big dollop of leave when they had a child.

And a better family/work balance. Just like Ibec said they support. Well, didn't they?

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