KALONDE NYATI, Lusaka
EVER imagined a man going on paternity leave for three months or more to share equal responsibility in taking care of babies? It doesn’t sound possible given the fact that nursing a baby is considered to be the responsibility of women, yet it happens in Sweden.
Sweden has one of the most generous parental leave systems in the world as parents of whichever gender are entitled to stay at home with their new-born child for a total of 480 days while receiving 80 percent of their salary, and out of these days, 60 must be taken by the father.
Fathers can choose to share their parental leave equally with their partner and in turn receive equality bonus as part of the new paternity leave legislation. This forms part of the Swedish feminist foreign policy, which aims to ensure that women and men have the same power to shape society and their own lives.
For instance, Daniel Gustavsson Pech, a civil servant who is on paternity leave nursing his third child, recently shared with 11 journalists from across the world, including Zambia, on how he has been taking paternity leave to ensure shared responsibility in raising children to ensure socio-economic development of the country.
The journalists, who were hosted by the Swedish Institute in Stockholm from October 9 to 12 to learn about the Swedish feminist policy, had an opportunity to hear Mr Pech’s experiences on parenting.
Mr Pech is attending to his baby while his partner says, “Taking leave to take care of children helps us bond and parenting has been made easy with the open day care centres where we meet with other parents to share experiences as we watch over the children”.
Similarly, Swedish photographer Johan Bavman, who has been exhibiting pictures across the world of Swedish fathers that are taking advantage of the paternity leave policy, said equal parenting is key in enabling women advance in various spheres as women are usually prevented from reaching their ultimate goals in their careers because of spending time taking care of children while men pursue their careers.
“Equal parenting is key in women reaching the top and also enhancing family ties. Women have for a long time been left to take care of children but I and the fathers I have photographed over the years want to be fathers who are there for our children,” he said.
Sweden is the first country to pursue a feminist policy and has for many decades been promoting gender equality and has, among other initiatives, been modernising the parental, leave insurance system to encourage gender-equal parenting among women and men.
According to the feminist foreign policy, ensuring the full enjoyment of human rights by all women and men is both an obligation within the framework of international commitments and a condition of achieving peace, security and sustainable development.
The 2015-2018 action plan, for instance, sets long- term objectives for the Foreign Service’s work on feminist foreign policy and the broad objectives to match broad challenges and bring the whole range of foreign policy tools into play.
Sweden is addressing gender – equal division of power and influence, economic gender equality, gender equal education, gender equal distribution of unpaid housework and provision of health care.
Sweden believes that gender equality is a human right and is part of the solution to creating jobs and growths and most importantly, it contributes to economic development by making use of both women and men’s potential.
The Swedish minister of children, the elderly and gender equality Asa Ragner said in an interview that the championing of gender equality has contributed to economic development of that country.
“The strong economy is partly due to gender equality and a strong labour force, where people work collectively,’’ she said.
Ms Ragner said gender equality is central to the government’s priorities, in decision-making and resource allocation.
She said while more needs to be done in attaining equality, successes have been scored as demonstrated by, among others, the issue of paternity leave.
Ms Ragner said countries like Zambia need to accelerate gender equality initiatives to attain growth because when a woman is empowered academically, professionally or in the business sphere, she will be able to contribute to the success of her home and the country.
Zambia has not remained behind in spearheading gender equality and encouraging fathers to go on paternity leave, which is seven days. This enables fathers to help nurse infants together with their spouses.
Zambia is also implementing initiatives such as girl-child education, encouraging girls who fall pregnant to go back to school, while in the area of land allocation, 30 percent of the total land is reserved for women with the rest being allocated to both men and women.
On the political scene, women are also encouraged to vie for political positions with Zambia seeing the first-ever female Vice-President.
Meanwhile, All Bright Foundation training manager Tove Dahlgren said the Swedish-based non-governmental organisation that aims to advocate for more women in leadership positions observed that companies that embrace gender equality record more profits because equality motivates workers.
“We carry out a research from time to time and results show that gender equality results in companies recording profits. For instance, companies that embrace equality had 42 percent higher return on sales,” she said.
Ms Dahlgren also observes that paternity leave has played a critical role in accelerating gender equality.
Gender equality contributes to economic development by making use of both women and men’s potential and empowering them to shape society.