Scandinavian paternity leave in Belgium: it’s possible!
Brussels, 14 December 2016. The Friday Group, a young people’s think tank supported by the King Baudouin Foundation, has worked out a parental leave reform so that fathers and co-parents can take three months of paternity leave during the first year after the birth of a child for 1,400 euros a month. According to their calculations, the public cost would be 49 million euros, an amount which could be found by means of a thorough review of the gender-unfriendly marriage quotient. They make these claims in their new report ‘Time’s up: achieving gender-equal time management through parental leave reform', which is published today.
Time is the ultimate leveller: everyone has 24 hours in a day. However, men and women use this time very differently: women do an hour and a half more unpaid work a day than men. This means that after one year, women have worked more than three months more than men for free! Nathalie François, co-author and public law expert, says: ‘In our view, this unequal use of time is the main reason why women are underrepresented in leadership positions and in public debate. At the same time, three out of four men would like to spend more time with their children, but public policy still doesn’t give young fathers enough opportunities to do so.’
‘Thanks to a reform of paternity leave and parental leave, we give families more opportunities and freedom: women can choose to invest more time in their careers, while men are given the opportunity to spend more time with their families,’ Marika Andersen, the Norwegian initiator of EUPanelWatch, who put her back into the publication of the report, adds. ‘The fact is that research suggests that paternity leave results in fathers taking on more responsibility for domestic tasks for the rest of their lives and women working more outside the home and earning money. In Scandinavia, where I come from and where men can be paid to stay at home from 10 weeks to a year after the birth of a child, men take on more responsibility for domestic tasks’.
Therefore, the Friday Group has worked out a concrete, calculated, and financed reform of paternity leave and parental leave. Brieuc Van Damme, chairman of the Friday Group and social security expert, says: ‘Pay fathers and co-parents the 10 days of paternity leave at 100% instead of today’s system of the first three days, and give them the chance to exchange their four months of parental leave of 700 euros a month for two and a half months of paternity leave at 1,400 euros a month. The only condition is that they have to take it up during the first year after the birth of the child. This means that young fathers and co-parents can actually take three months of parental leave to learn to care for their baby, a skill which will also benefit the rest of the family, and they retain 700 euros net extra.’
The Friday Group has calculated that this reform would cost 49 million euros in social security and suggests financing this via a thorough screening of the gender-unfriendly fiscal marriage quotient which discourages work and costs the treasury more than 600 million euros every year. Furthermore, the authors make a series of other recommendations to tackle the insufficient representation of women in leadership positions and public debate, including temporary quotas on executive boards. You will find a full list of the 10 recommendations in the box below. The calculations are in the report and in the calculation charts which are freely available on the website www.fridaygroup.be/
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10 recommendations for gender-equal time management
- Pay the first 10 days of the paternity or co-parental leave at 100% if the father or co-parent makes use of the entire 10 days (and not only the first three days at 100%, as is the case at present).
- Pay the first 10 days of the maternity leave at 100%, and not at 82%, as it is at present.
- Make it possible for fathers and co-parents to double their parental leave pay to 1,400 euros a month, for a leave duration of two and a half months, if they take it within the first year after the birth of a child. This gives Belgian fathers and co-parents the opportunity to take a total three months of paternity leave for the birth of the child, and the family retains 700 euros net extra.
- Investigate the link between gender, time inequality and the overrepresentation of women on sick leave receiving disability payments.
- Integrate the budget and legislation on parental leave from the RVA/ONEM (National Employment Agency) into the RIZIV/INAMI (National Service for Health and Disablement Insurance), which covers the maternity or paternity or co-parental leaves, so that a more coherent and efficient policy can be implemented.
- Reduce the high VAT rate of 21% on hygiene products for women to 6%, the rate which applies to other basic products.
- Carry out a thorough screening and reform of the marriage quotient (and other gender-unfriendly fiscal policies), which makes it fiscally beneficial for one of the spouses to work very little or not at all. The marriage quotient now costs over 600 million euros and could finance the estimated cost of 49 million euros from recommendations 1, 2, and 3, as well as the extra cost of the necessary VAT reform (recommendation 6).
- There should be temporary quotas for women, among others on executive boards, so that more role models can emerge.
- Education should tackle gender stereotyping more proactively.
- A diverse task force of labour market specialists, economists, sociologists, and lawyers should objectify the gender pay gap and propose solutions to bridge it.