Spain's Progressive Paternity Leave

A COLLEAGUE of mine is off on paternity leave. So, I thought the rest of us would just muddle through while he was off. But then I was introduced to his substitute. A substitute? But why, it's only a couple of weeks, surely we can manage? It turns out that after a new law that came into effect on 1st April this year, fathers can take two months' of paid paternityleave. And it's no April Fool's joke, in fact the time allocated to fathers is set to rise progressively over the the next few years, reaching a full FOUR months by 2021.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think it's great that any new father can have time to bond with their baby and help the new mum recover, but what seems totally wrong to me is that the length of maternity leave for women is still a paltry 16 weeks. And as far as I can see there are no plans to extend it. So, by 2021 men and women here will be entitled to take the same amount of time off to look after their newborn.

When my four daughters were babies they each had to start nursery when they were just 16 weeks old, and I remember it being heartbreaking having to leave them. I would have loved a longer maternity leave, but that is the law.

And it's not only about the feelings of separation between mother and baby, more than that it flies in the face of advice from the World Health Organisation, which “recommends mothers worldwide to exclusively breastfeed infants for the child's first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health.” The WHO continues: “Thereafter, they should be given nutritious complementary foods and continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years or beyond.”

Yes, there are ways to organise breastfeeding and work, using breast pumps and freezerbags but nobody can deny the best way is for the mother and baby to be together. If mothers are only given 16 weeks how can this be done?

Spain may be at the forefront of gender equality, but in their constant quest for giving men and women the same rights I sometimes wonder if they have forgotten that we are not the same. Men and women should be treated fairly, yes. But we are different and those differences are what make us special and should be respected.

For me the most blindingly obvious difference is that men cannot give birth and men cannot breastfeed.

We seem to be heading into the realms of Monty Python's The Life of Brian where Stan announced he wanted to be called Loretta and have babies or at least the right to have babies, even though he didn't have a womb or anywhere else for the baby to gestate.

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