/ 28 May 2015

One man fights for all fathers

One Man Fights For All Fathers

A father’s battle to get the issue of paternity leave on the agenda in Parliament may be heading to the Constitutional Court, depending on the presidency’s response.

On May 22, Hendri Terblanche, frustrated by the silence of Parliament’s select committee on petitions and executive undertakings, wrote to President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to express his dissatisfaction.

Terblanche had appeared before the select committee on November 24 last year, asking for the amendment of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act to include 10 days leave for fathers after the birth or adoption of their children.

His appearance was followed by a long silence: emails were not answered and no indication of when his presentation would turn into a recommendation for the amendment was given.

Should the presidency not respond in a week, Terblanche says he will approach the Constitutional Court to challenge what he sees as an infringement of his right to petition.

In South Africa, acknowledging that 64% of children grow up without a father in their home is a good place to start in terms of considering legislation on parental leave.

Paternity leave system
Wessel van den Berg, a child rights and positive parenting portfolio manager at Sonke Gender Justice, says: “If we develop a [more progressive] paternity leave system in South Africa it must enable fathers not with their partners to still be involved with their children.

“When we did a report on absent fathers, the number one stated reason [for not being involved] was no money,” he says.

“Another challenge in South Africa is that, with so many people employed in the informal sector, the question on a father’s mind would be: ‘How can the government support me in keeping my business running while I look after my child?’?”

On Father’s Day (June 21), the Men Care Global Fatherhood campaign will launch its position paper on paternity leave and get inputs from women’s rights organisations, to help contain misgivings around how men might misuse their paternity leave days, says Van den Berg. “That’s why we focus on the positives in our campaigns – that men care and that it would benefit children.”

He says they have proposed the “1 000 – 100 – 10 model [in a position paper], which advocates that in the child’s first 1 000 days, parents must take at least 100 days per parent, 10 of those being nontransferable paternity leave at birth”.

He says the thinking about 10 days reflects a minimum recovery time from Caesarean section surgery, that he deems inadequate.

Male employees at Sonke, for example, are entitled to a month’s paternity leave.

Shared responsibilities
Remmy Shawa, a sexual reproductive health and rights portfolio manager at Sonke, says he recently took two weeks after the birth of his child and then every Friday for 10 weeks. “I took some [time] when the baby was born, then when my parents came [to help out] for two weeks I suspended it,” he says.

“The statutory three days from companies is not enough. My partner had a Caesarean section and it takes at least six weeks for the wound to recover so she couldn’t really move. Women are working now so we have to share common responsibilities.”

In 2014, Terblanche, a father of two prematurely born children, wrote to all of South Africa’s MPs, asking them to make members statements advocating for the amendment of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act to include 10 days of paid paternity leave for fathers.

“As a proudly South African citizen,” wrote Terblanche, “it saddened me that only a handful of MPs actually replied to me and therefore the plight of fathers was never addressed in the National Assembly.”

He then presented before Parlia-ment’s select committee on petitions and executive undertakings, to find that they had considered only 10 petitions in the past five years.

He has sent a letter to the presidency and will launch a legal challenge to Parliament’s petitions committee, which he says is backlogged.

10 days
Asked why he was campaigning for a mere 10 days, which is a far cry from the Swedish benchmark of a minimum 60 days, Terblanche remarks: “If the average monthly income for people in the 30 to 64 years old group was R9 396 (according to the Census 2011), then 10 days paternity leave would cost R4 395 per birth of a child. The impact of that is a lot of money that would either have to be paid for by the unemployment insurance fund or the employer, putting too much pressure on labour.”

Zane Dangor, adviser to Bathabile Dlamini, the minister of social development, says they, after consulting civil society groups, have also been advocating a 1 000 days campaign.

“The idea is to cram services for the mother, including material support, to consider issues such as: Can she feed herself so she gives birth to a healthy child? This includes universalising the social grant, because a means test means that there is an area of exclusion for people who earn marginally above the requirement for a social grant.”

Dangor says it will take collaborating with the department of women, children and people with disabilities.

“The idea of 10 days paternity leave, as far as we are concerned as a department, is baby steps. The ideal is both parents, whether married or not, having to share a number of parental leave days, 50/50. That model makes social and economic sense. For sectors like the informal one, one can make allowances to overcome concerns.”

Dangor says a spin-off would be a huge reduction in violence against women and children. “When a man has to look after children, a shift occurs in terms of their perceptions around violence.”

Swedish men take 60 days’ paternity leave or more

“When I told people at work I was going to take paternal leave for six months, everybody was like, ‘What?’,” says Carlos Alan Lane, a project manager in the construction business. The 30-year-old is seated in a shopping mall food court in the central Stockholm suburb of Kungsholmen, feeding his 18-month daughter Signe in her stroller.

“Most of them are used to two months, three months, and it’s nice,” says the boyish-looking Lane in a Latin-tinged Swedish accent. “They were, like, ‘Can you afford six months?’ Most guys’ attitude is, ‘If I earn more [than my partner], then I should work more because that’s in favour of the family economy’.”

The Swedish social security system allows parents to take more than 400 days of parental leave, at 80% of their salary, to be used according to the couple’s discretion.

Fathers are obliged to take a minimum of 60 days’ leave, but there are plans to increase that number to 90.

“Most guys usually end up taking less days with that [using the earning excuse], even though they get good back-up from the social system. It’s a question of prioritising, I guess,” says Lane.

Carlos Lane has time (and an income) to spend with his daughter Signe. (Fredrik Lerneryd)

Born in Argentina to Uruguayan parents, Lane has been a Swedish citizen since February 2013. He tells me that the parental leave system includes an “equality bonus” – a cash bonus that functions as an incentive to get men to use their entire allotted 60 days.

Niklas Löfgren, of the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, says the country’s system evolved about 100 years ago from voluntary insurances people had set up to deal with disease and burial.

“It started with a people’s movement when things were very bad in Sweden,” says Löfgren. “People left the country and emigrated to the US. Their life expectancy was low, it was hard to get jobs; child mortality was high. This is 100, 120 years or so ago. People demanded social reforms and started their own insurances in the beginning.” Nowadays, the system is funded through the country’s relatively high taxes.

Since its formalisation, the system has gone through several modifications, with compensation for fathers being established after 1974.

“The economic family policy was developed most intensely from the Sixties to the Eighties,” says Löfgren. “One reason for it was we had worker shortages, we needed people in the industries and in the public sector. More and more women started to work and the day-care system expanded a lot in the Seventies and Eighties as we moved to a two-breadwinner system.”

Referring to statistics from 2005, Löfgren found that, on average, fathers have only used 20 of their days by the time their children turn one, 44 days at 18 months and 97 days by the time the child turns eight. “Women are the opposite, having used [on average] 274 days by the time their children reach 18 months and 334 by the time their children turn eight.”

Kwanele Sosibo’s trip was sponsored by the Swedish Institute.