Published on Let's Talk Development

Sharing is caring. Why engaging men in care duties is critical for gender equality

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Father holding his daughter. | © A father in Tanzania spends time at home with his children. © Zeljko Santrac | iStock

Twelve years ago, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 1st as the Global Day of Parents, recognizing parenthood’s critical role in society. Since then, we've witnessed remarkable progress in creating more supportive conditions for parents, enabling them to balance the demands of work and family life more effectively. According to Women, Business and the Law 2024, Parenthood is one of the indicators showcasing the highest number of reforms over the past decade. In the previous year, seven economies introduced 15 reforms that protect pregnant women from unlawful dismissal, increase paid maternity leave, and instituting paid paternity leave for the first time. (Figure 1).

In 2023, five economies implemented reforms introducing paid leave for fathers. The Slovak Republic now offers fathers 196 days of paid paternity leave, Sierra Leone provides 14 days, and both Malaysia and Oman grant seven days. Cyprus stands out with its introduction of 42 days of paid parental leave, available to each parent individually.

Figure 1. In 2022–23, 18 Economies enacted reforms across all Women, Business and the Law 1.0 indicators
Number of reforms since October 2022, by economy, indicator, and region

A stacked bar chart showing Figure 1. 18 Economies enacted refroms accross WBL

Source: Women, Business and the Law
2024 database.
Note: OECD = Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; WBL = Women, Business and the Law

This reform trend signals a growing recognition by governments of the importance of sharing caregiving responsibilities between parents. Such measures not only enable greater participation of women in the workforce but also contribute to building stronger, more resilient economies. However, the mere existence of parental leave laws is insufficient. Legal and policy design are critical to encourage fathers to take leave. Additionally, while men around the globe are increasing their participation at home, rooted gender roles and workplace culture still discourage them from taking on caregiving responsibilities.

The Women, Business and the Law 2024 report identifies several critical areas that need to be addressed to incentivize fathers to participate equally in caregiving:

  • Lack of International Consensus on Paternity Leave Duration: Unlike maternity leave, which is often guided by the International Labor Organization's standard of 14 weeks, there is no universally accepted benchmark for paternity leave. Out of 190 economies surveyed, 123 provide at least one day of paid paternity leave. However, the duration of this leave varies widely, even within regions. For instance, in Latin America and the Caribbean, the length of paid leave for fathers ranges from a mere 2 or 3 days in some countries to 10 to 15 days in others. Among OECD-high income countries, the duration spans from one week in Chile to 196 days in the Slovak Republic. In Sub-Saharan Africa, while Guinea-Bissau offers a generous 15 days, many countries provide only one to three days. 

  • Discrepancy in Leave Duration for Fathers and Mothers: On average, fathers receive just 25 days of leave, in stark contrast to the 196 days available to mothers. In most economies that offer paid leave for both parents, fathers' leave is significantly shorter. In Spain, paternity leave has gradually increased from two weeks in 2017 to 16 weeks in 2021, equalizing the length of paid leave for fathers with those for mothers. Recent studies show that most fathers in Spain enjoy take the entire leave period allocated to them, with 70 percent opting to coincide with the mother’s leave. Similarly, Sweden offers a generous 480 days of parental leave, of which 300 days are shared between parents, and each parent is individually entitled to 90 days. In fact, Sweden boasts one of the highest parental leave uptake rates globally. This disparity hinders gender equality, as research indicates that larger gaps in leave allocation can negatively impact women's participation in the labor force.

  • Incentives to Encourage Fathers' Uptake of Leave: Effective policies to promote paternity leave uptake should include well-compensated leave specifically for fathers, societal shifts in the perception of fathers' caregiving roles, and workplace support. Thirty economies have implemented incentives ranging from job protection during leave to cash bonuses and additional time off if both parents take leave. For example, parents in Sweden and Austria receive a cash bonus when parental leave is divided equally between caretakers, while countries like Belgium, Canada, Czechia, Kazakhstan, and Poland, protect fathers from unlawful dismissal while taking leave to care for their children. In Korea, parental leave benefits can be increased if both parents take leave together or sequentially.

  •  Workplace Culture and Flexibility: Overcoming barriers such as job insecurity, unsupportive management, and societal judgment is essential. Flexible leave arrangements and supportive work environments, bolstered by public campaigns and employer incentives, can facilitate a cultural shift towards involved fatherhood. Employers have a vital role in normalizing leave for fathers by providing family-friendly options, such as flexible working arrangements after leave. According to Equimundo, experiences in the workplace, such as fear of losing their jobs, unsupportive managers, or fear of being judged poorly for taking leave, present critical barriers to father’s leave uptake. 

As we celebrate the progress made, there is still much to do to ensure fathers are fully engaged in caregiving and to achieve true gender equality at home and in the workplace. The Global Day of Parents, celebrated on June 1, is a great opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to strengthening legal and regulatory frameworks that incentivize shared caregiving, supporting families to contribute to the vitality of their communities and the broader economy.

Natália Mazoni Silva Martins

Private Sector Specialist; Women, Business and the Law

Aylén Rodríguez Ferrari

Analyst, Women, Business and the Law, World Bank

Amel Zahid

Analyst, Women, Business and the Law

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