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Government refuses to equal paternity and maternity leave due to 'cost to State'
SPAIN'S government has rejected proposals for maternity and paternity leave to be equal in length because it would cost the State too much – a move that has sparked criticism from the opposition, especially as it coincided with International Women's Day on Wednesday.
Podemos and the PSOE, the reigning PP's main left-wing rivals, accused president Mariano Rajoy's cabinet of being 'two-faced' when they say women's rights matter, but that when it came to putting actions into words, it was a different story.
Maternity leave in Spain is four months, or 16 weeks, whilst paternity leave has recently doubled from two weeks to four, but campaigners say this is not enough as it prevents fathers from helping out more with childcare and household tasks, since they have to go back to work.
It is also unfortunate for the fathers, since they are denied the opportunity to spend time with their newborn after the first four weeks – and for all-male couples, neither father is able to care for the child without giving up his job and suffering the consequent loss of income.
Dissenters, however, say maternity leave should be longer than paternity leave, because mothers have the tiring ordeal of pregnancy and childbirth to recover from and, if they are able to do so, many will want to breastfeed their babies.
The opposition says with paternity leave being just 25% of maternity leave, it automatically means parents are forced into the traditional role of male breadwinner and female homemaker.
And as 80% of pregnancies in Spain are unplanned, they typically occur in the 30s, when women are just beginning to gain a foothold on the career ladder – by the time they have settled into a professional routine with some stability, they are less fertile due to their age and accidental pregnancies are less likely.
Women as primary childcarers still in the majority Europe-wide
Six in 10 women (58.1%) in Spain postpone or give up their careers to become the main caregiver when they become mothers, whilst only 6.2% - barely one in 16 – new dads put their professional lives on hold, according to a study commissioned by the association Yo no renuncio ('I'm not giving up'), created by the Club de Malasmadres ('Bad Mothers' Club').
By 'giving up' or 'putting on hold', the research refers to mums going part-time, taking various periods of extended paid or unpaid leave, or taking on a less-demanding job, rather than necessarily dropping out of the rat-race altogether, although more than half of all women – 51.3% - who do not have children say they expect it will be them rather than the baby's father who makes professional sacrifices if they become parents.
Even allowing for the association's bias, the figures show that men continue to be very much in the minority as primary caregivers and very few parents share childcare equally.
Cases of a few unscrupulous firms demoting or firing women when they become pregnant or request reduced working hours are not the majority, but significant enough to make headlines, even though this is illegal and, should the employee approach a union to take legal action for her, is almost certain to win her case.
Even if the firm cites performance-related reasons for terminating her employment, in all dismissal cases, the onus is on the company to prove it was justified in sacking the staff member.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that more men would like to become 'house husbands', part- or full-time, and spend more time with their children, but the social assumption of childcare being a mother's role works both ways: some mums put up great resistance to dads' desires to dedicate his life to the kids, considering it 'her patch' and leaving him feeling 'left out'.
Yet in many cases, it is probably a case of the four-month maternity leave and even longer spent breastfeeding simply continuing unchecked and unquestioned.
Women who are self-employed may be more likely to park their careers when a baby comes along, since even though she is entitled to maternity pay, it could be difficult or even impossible to regain clients lost during her months of absence.
Spain is, however, no different to the rest of the western world, although society is clearly changing.
Statistics show that whilst 75% of families in the 1950s had one breadwinner, who was practically always the father, nowadays 60% of couples with children are two-income families.
For those who can afford for one parent to work part-time or not at all, the main factor considered tends to be who has the highest income or the job that can most easily be put on hold and resumed months or years later.
But in the UK, for example, fathers are the primary caregiver in only one in 10 heterosexual non-separated couples with children.
Single dads are gradually ceasing to become the subject of news features in gossip magazines: in 2013, a total of 9% of one-parent families were made up of a man and his child or children.
The figures only, at present, cover heterosexual parents, even though lesbian and gay male couples have been parents for decades – but changes in laws and social attitudes mean i
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