In the quest for a more equitable society, Rwanda is acknowledged for making remarkable efforts in advancing women's rights and promoting gender equality. Yet, there's one vital aspect that still demands our attention: paternity leave. A recent policy dialogue held in Kigali sparked fiery discussions and unveiled the untapped potential of paternity leave in reshaping the very fabric of the Rwandan society.
Organized by RWAMREC, the Rwanda Civil Society Platform (RCSP), and the World Policy Analysis Center, the dialogue aimed to unravel the true significance of paternity leave. We delved into the heart of the matter - why it's not just about changing diapers, but a stepping stone towards fostering gender equality.
The buzz ignited when Law n° 027/2023 came into play, amending the labor law to embrace maternity and paternity leave. However, it was yet to be determined the precise duration of these leaves through a ministerial order. This has left Rwandan fathers with limited support to engage in their families. Many Rwandan men are now yearning to step up to the plate, to be the supportive and engaged partners and fathers that their families need. Alas, the current 4-day paternity leave feels like an anti-climactic plot twist, leaving families hanging mid-air. Mr. Fidèle Rutayisire, ED of RWAMREC posed a though-provoking question to the audience during the policy dialogue.
“How many of you are taking care of someone? How many of you fathers have taken the 4-day circumstantial leave, was it enough? And mothers, do you feel that the 3-month leave is sufficient?”
The response was a resounding and unanimous 'no,' highlighting that the leave duration was not considered adequate for neither father nor mother. Globally, the stage has been set for change during the last decades. In Africa, the spotlight shines on countries like Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa, granting fathers at least two weeks of paid paternity leave. Their story of increased gender equality and happier families has left Rwanda longing for a similar development. But, like any good story, there are challenges to overcome.
“Caregiving extends beyond financial support; women often associate it with emotional care, while men tend to relate it to economy. At the same time, not all men fit the same box, many have been transformed and are genuinely willing to actively engage in caregiving roles.”
As a captivating short inspirational video began, depicting a Rwandan father from one of RWAMREC’s programs actively engaging in childcare, the audience was entranced. The room filled with cheers of encouragement, intrigued murmurs, and spontaneous applause as the father in the video skillfully bathed his baby, dressed and fed the little one, and tenderly wrapped them in the traditional Rwandan fashion on his back. The heartwarming display served as a powerful testament that Rwandan fathers are already embracing a transformative role in caregiving,
eagerly awaiting the supportive policy to walk hand-in-hand with their commitment and dedication. The script called for civil society organizations to rally the troops and educate society about positive parenting, breaking free from outdated gender stereotypes, and to advocate for policy implementation of minimum 30 days of paternity leave. Mr. Nicholas Perry from World Policy Analysis Center continued to shed light on the possibilities of a longer paid leave.
“The impacts of longer paternity leave spoke volumes, revealing a remarkable 6.8% increase in women's economic empowerment. Mothers experienced fewer sick leave days and spent more time engaged in paid work. The extended leave also ignited positive norm changes, paving the way for better job rights for women, especially in times of limited job opportunities. Fathers became more actively involved in caregiving and household responsibilities, testifying to more satisfaction in their relationships with their children"
As the dialogue unfolded, hope shimmered among the participants. Stakeholders united, realizing that this was no solo quest; it's a collaborative blockbuster. Government institutions, civil society, employers, and employees must join forces. The recommendations from the groups included at least 30 days of paternity leave and six months maternity leave, for Government institutions to prioritize education and awareness on positive parenting and parental leave laws, promote positive masculinity to challenge caregiving stereotypes, and explain policies to the public, while collaborating with the private sector which is presently not always implementing government policies. Moreover, it was recommended that CSO’s should continue advocating for policy implementation and raise awareness about parental leave, focusing on promoting positive masculinity for gender equality. The role of religious institutions was acknowledged to emphasize support for positive parenting and parental rights awareness, and that religious representatives should be well-informed about government policies. And at the heart of it all are the families of Rwanda, yearning for a tale where fathers are engaged, mothers supported in their journey, and children have access to both of their parents.
In this riveting story, the finale holds the promise of a better Rwanda. Longer paternity leave would bring harmony to families, strengthen women's economic empowerment, promote shared responsibilities and increased work-life balance. As the event came to a close, we found ourselves filled with hope and determination for an exhilarating future, where paternity leave transcends being a mere footnote and emerges as a powerful game-changer in our quest for gender equality. Let us continue to stand united, embracing this transformative journey, and together, let's propel paternity leave to the forefront of our efforts in shaping a better world for our children.
Anna Wirén for RWAMREC