Paternity leave: Time with newborn children should not be the exclusive preserve of women

Should fathers be denied the right to care for their newborn children? I think not

Should fathers be denied the right to care for their newborn children? I think not

My Rwandan sisters, who hope to have children one day, must be dancing a little jig after reading last week that Parliament has finally welcomed a draft law that establishes and governs the maternity leave benefits scheme. The draft law was tabled in the lower House by Dr Uzziel Ndagijimana, the minister of state in charge of economic planning, on the 26th of last month.

After years of crying and gnashing of teeth, it would seem that the powers that be finally heard the wails emanating from the women who’d been forced leave their newly-born children in the hands of nannies to mournfully go back to work.

The draft law aims to ensure that women earned their full salary for the entirety of their three-month long maternity leave.

Unlike the previous maternity leave article, which put the entire financial burden on the employer, this one is shared between the employer and Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB), with each paying six weeks full salary to the new mothers. If I’m not mistaken, all employees (and employers) will add a small amount to their normal monthly RSSB contributions in order to fund the Maternity Leave Benefits Scheme.

As someone who hopes to have a family some day, I cannot overstate just how happy I am to find about this. I’ve complained for years now about the 2009 Labour Law, as it pertained to maternity leave.

I railed against Article 66 of the law which mandated that, and I quote, ‘The mother with no maternity insurance coverage shall, during the first six weeks of her maternity leave, have the right to her entire salary. During the last six weeks of her maternity leave, this mother may either resume service and receive her full salary or else, have the right to twenty per cent of her salary’.

I railed against it because it put an unfair burden on families, making them choose against their financial wellbeing or the wellbeing of their child. And lets be honest, it really wasn’t a choice. Not with the childcare bills adding onto the ‘normal’ housing, food, transport and utility bills.

What really got my goat was that this anti-family clause was passed by a parliament that was stacked with, guess what, MOTHERS. I’m pleased that we are doing away with the Faustian Pact we’d forced families to agree to.

However, while it would seem that we’ve moved forward with the issue of maternity leave, it would seem that we’ve decided to remain static on the issue of paternity leave.

I can actually hear thousand of eyes rolling as they read the words ‘paternity leave’, but bear with me.

Currently husbands can only enjoy four working days of leave in the event that their wife gives birth. That is problematic in many ways, and not only in the most obvious ones.

Firstly, it puts an unfair burden on wives. Imagine if a wife has given birth by caesarian procedure, wouldn’t she need a lot of help not only to take care of the newborn but also herself? Who else will do it other than her husband? Her mother? What happens if she is an orphan? Her mother-in-law? What happens if her husband is an orphan? This is Rwanda so this scenario is possible. Why force the couple to burden people who weren’t involved in making the baby anyway?

Secondly, if we are to be honest, the four-day paternity leave assumes that men don’t need to be at home that much after their wife gives birth because they aren’t needed to keep the baby alive and healthy. After all, its not as if we can breastfeed them right? But as any child expert will tell you, extremely strong bonds are created between fathers and their children at even the initial stages of life.

So, by forcing men to leave their child and go make money after a measly four days this law is doing two things, halting the rich father-child bonding relationship in its tracks and re-emphasizing gender stereotypes and roles i.e. that taking care of the child is a woman’s ‘duty’ while earning money is a man’s.

Thirdly, the law actually only concerns married men. So if you get your fiancé or girlfriend pregnant, you actually don’t have a right to enjoy paternity leave, it can be legally denied by your employer.

That’s what I discovered when I re-read the clause pertaining to paternity leave (which interestingly enough actually isn’t found in the Labour Code but rather in the Ministerial Order N°03 OF 13/07/2010 Determining circumstantial leaves). Article 2 states that reasons for circumstantial leave include a ‘worker’s WIFE delivery’. So, if you haven’t put a ring on it, you are out of luck mister.

Lastly, it is my understanding that each and EVERY worker, whether male or female will contribute to this maternity insurance scheme. Therefore it is only fair that both genders should be able to benefit from it. I’m not saying that I should get the full six weeks that we shall contribute for, but I do think that we husbands, fiancés, boyfriends and baby daddies should be allowed more time with our families. Four days simply aren’t enough

The New Times has published this blog post

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