Support grows for paternity leave in Jamaica

by pregnancy journalist

Jamaican men could, in the near future, be given time off from work, by way of paternity leave when their partners give birth, in order to allow them to bond with their newborns.

It is a move being championed by Gender Affairs Minister, Olivia Grange, in her bid to bridge the gender gap. Minister Grange spoke to the issue in a statement to the House of Representatives on Tuesday, to mark International Men’s Day that was observed a day earlier.

“We have longed battled with the issues associated with single parent households usually led by mothers. We recognise that we need men to teach the boys in their lives, the values, character and responsibility of being a man and to help their daughters to become fine, empowered young women.

“Children do better when mother and father actively participate in their lives,” Minister Grange stated.

She revealed that the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, which has a men’s desk, has been conducting parenting seminars that target men, in an effort to change entrenched behaviours that militate against good parenting.

“Men must not only be seen as providers or disciplinarians in the family, they also have a critical role to play as nurturers. We want to boost the participation of fathers in the household. We don’t have to just only think of housewives, we can think of house husbands.

“We want men to play a role in the nurturing of their children and that is why we’re also championing the paternity leave policy through the Bureau of Gender Affairs,” Grange told the House.

She appealed to both men and women to participate in the consultations that will be conducted over the next few months, towards the development of the policy.

Meanwhile, Denzil Thorpe, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Culture and Gender which is headed by Grange, said the coming Paternity Leave Act is in line with the recommendations of the National Policy for Gender Equality.

“In response to the discussions regarding the passing of a Paternity Leave Act or a Parental Leave Act to accommodate paternity leave, there will be consultations on the relevance of paternity leave to the Jamaican society and the parameters of the Paternity Leave Act,” Thorpe said.

He was addressing an International Men’s Day forum at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus.

“This is of major significance as the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport seeks to introduce paternity leave as a benefit to men as fathers are part and parcel of the Jamaican workforce. It is well established that for gender to be truly transformative, it has to be inclusive,” Thorpe said.

The policy states Jamaica’s commitment towards gender equality and to providing an enabling environment for achieving the goals of fairness and socio-economic justice for women and men.

Paternity leave is a job-protected period of leave for employed men, with income support provided in some cases. It is a short period of leave for fathers following childbirth.

Currently, The Bahamas is the only country in the English-speaking Caribbean that allows men to take paternity leave.

Meanwhile, Jamaica is receiving support in its move towards paternity leave for working fathers.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative, Bruno Pouezat in supporting Jamaica’s move, noted that the UNDP already grants such leave in its Jamaica country office and across the world.

“In our local office, men enjoy four weeks of paternity leave with full pay to support the mother, and care and bond with the new-born child,” Pouezat said in a news release.

“We encourage Jamaica to implement paternity leave because UNDP staff, men and women, can testify that paternity leave improves family life and boosts male responsibility,” he added.

Pouezat was addressing the Amazing Men Awards ceremony in honour of International Men’s Day on Monday at the UWI Mona campus.

The ceremony honoured four men from UNDP’s Rejuvenating Communities Social Cohesion project,  as well as several  men’s groups.

In lauding the Amazing Man Awards, Pouezat said prevailing negatives must not be allowed to overshadow those men who are making a positive difference.

“It is important to signal to men who are doing the right thing that we see them, we appreciate them, and we need more of them,” he said.

Popular sentiment is now in favour of Jamaican men being granted paternity leave. Advocates say it will go a far way in helping to improve family bonds. A survey conducted by the Jamaica Civil Service Association in 2011 showed majority support for paternity leave.

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