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Jakarta Post

EDITORIAL: The right to a father

  • EDITORIAL

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, March 15, 2018   /   08:08 am
EDITORIAL: The right to a father It is very important for men to maximize their parental leave and network with each other so that they could support one another. (Shutterstock/File)

State encouragement of paternity leave has finally arrived in Indonesia, a historic move acknowledging a fact that women have known all too long: They can’t manage alone. It seems to be a small, hesitant start. Based on a regulation of the National Civil Service Agency (BKN) late last year on leave of civil servants for “important needs”, men can apply for up to a month’s leave starting from before their wife’s childbirth, beyond the two days currently provided in the Manpower Law. The Jakarta administration says it adopted the policy this year, though paternity leave is limited to just five days.

The policy shows symbolic government support for the employee welcoming his newborn, albeit limited to civil servants. It’s at least a start to better recognize the needs of both mother and father in a child’s life.

Fathers may still be reluctant to sign up for the leave, feeling either too busy with work or embarrassed to stay for an extended period of time at home. Few Japanese and South Korean men have applied for the leave, a study by Kyushu University found last year, blaming perceptions that their peers would disapprove, despite desperate government incentives to boost birthrates.

Similarly, our traditions have long kept fathers away from a more significant role in raising children. Even the 1974 Marriage Law states the wife “is obligated to arrange household affairs as best as possible”.

Other local administrations should also enforce paternity leave, certainly longer than five days, because women fresh from giving birth need support after the first weeks — often when the mother or mother-in-law is preparing to leave. While recuperating and taking care of the new infant is a great challenge, there is also the housework and often other children to care of, although some can afford domestic helpers. The challenge is at least two-fold following childbirth involving a caesarian section.

Therefore, the private sector also needs to do everything it can to offer paternity leave. A few private companies, including PT IBM Indonesia and PT Johnson & Johnson, were among the first to issue paternity leave, proving there’s no need to wait for specific rules and bylaws. Apart from paternity leave PT Unilever Indonesia has extended maternity leave from the mandatory three months to four months; Aceh province has regulated six months’ maternity leave for civil servants.

Similar incentives are crucial to retain women in the workforce. A whopping 40 percent of women of productive age leave work for at least one year after their first childbirth, according to demographer Ariane Utomo, citing last year’s study under the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Economic Governance. Employers naturally fret about replacing the women employees’ talent and experience, especially given our female labor participation rate is chronically stuck at around 50 percent.

Women have said they would gladly pitch in to the economy, even while seeking income at home. Governments have been slow to realize what’s holding them back. At least now men will be able to enjoy fatherhood along with the hectic days and nights in welcoming their baby.