Arab Decision-Makers Embrace Paternity Leave and Men’s Involvement in Childcare: A UN Women Report

Mohamed Basuony
Mohamed Basuony
Arab Decision-Makers Embrace Paternity Leave and Men's Involvement in Childcare: A UN Women Report

Arab Decision-Makers Embrace Paternity Leave and Men’s Involvement in Childcare: A UN Women Report

In a groundbreaking release on the 25th of September in Amman, Jordan, UN Women unveiled their latest publication, “Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices of Institutional Actors on Paternity Leave and the Role of Men in Childcare in the MENA Region.” This comprehensive regional study, undertaken with the aim of increasing public awareness of a vital issue, has collated insights from 1,154 decision-makers spanning five Arab countries regarding the participation of men in childcare and the concept of paternity leave.

This remarkable research was conducted through an online survey, attracting participation from influential figures in Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine. Contrary to prevailing assumptions, the findings of UN Women’s research reveal a resounding endorsement of paternal leave and active male engagement in childcare among Arab decision-makers.

The study’s recommendations are practical and geared towards promoting legal and policy alterations that facilitate men’s involvement in childcare. Among the proposed strategies are initiatives to raise public awareness about the advantages of men’s participation in childcare, the expansion of family-friendly policies and childcare services in workplaces, and a call for extended paternity leave through legislative reforms.

This report also highlights a significant shift in the Arab world’s perceptions, signaling growing recognition that caregiving practices and parenting responsibilities are instrumental in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. Several factors have contributed to this evolution, including rapid socio-economic changes, the move from extended to nuclear family structures, urbanization, declining fertility rates, improved gender equality in both the workplace and education, and increased access to modern technologies and social media. As a result, non-family caregivers are increasingly relied upon for childcare, especially in urban settings and among young married couples, divorced or separated women, widows, and working couples with children.

During the report’s launch event, it was revealed that maternity leave in the region typically spans from 50 to 120 days, with paternity leave being virtually non-existent, except for a modest 15-day provision in Morocco. The average duration of paternity leave, where it exists, is only three days. The report also underscores the alarming lack of male figures assuming primary childcare responsibilities, ranging from zero percent in Lebanon to a mere one to six percent in other countries. Most male respondents identify women as the primary caregivers for children, underscoring the prevalence of entrenched gender norms in the region.

When questioned about the benefits of men’s involvement in unpaid childcare for society, the panel emphasized several positive outcomes, including enhanced spousal relationships, reduced domestic violence, improved mental well-being for all family members, and the promotion of gender-equitable behaviors and attitudes, which can exert a positive influence on future generations.

The encouraging findings of this report, focusing on decision-makers, echo the results of previous research conducted by UN Women from 2017 to 2022. This suggests that the majority of men in the Arab region harbor a desire to spend more quality time with their children. The newly released report provides promising data on how men’s involvement in childcare can be fostered, yielding mutual benefits for men, women, families, societies, and economies in the MENA region and beyond.

Susanne Mikhail Eldhagen, the regional director of UN Women for the Arab States, revealed that the study affirms that an impressive 86 percent of decision-makers across the five Arab states support extending the duration of paternity leave. This aligns seamlessly with recent studies conducted by UN Women, which indicate that most men in the region yearn for increased bonding time with their children. Eldhagen concludes, “By implementing the study’s recommendations, the region can enable men to spend more time with their children, thereby facilitating women’s participation in the paid labor force, increasing family income, and enhancing overall well-being.”

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