In Ethiopia, women get 120 days of paid maternity leave and men 10 days if in the civil service, (Proclamation №1064/2017 § 42(3) &(10)), and 3 days if in the private sector (Proclamation №1064/2017 § 81(2)).
It might not be much of a surprise to find that when it comes to parental leave and who the law considers being the primary caregiver for a newborn child, Ethiopia’s labour laws are no different from many others around the world. Whether it is the Federal Civil Service Proclamation (2002) or the Labour Proclamation (2019), it is quite clear that Ethiopian fathers are not only considered to be secondary caregivers but are also expected to be the family’s breadwinner during their child’s infancy. This is best exemplified by the benefits afforded to those fathers working in the private sector, where the Labour Proclamation § 81(2) not only lists paternity leave under “Special Leaves” but also only provides fathers with the same minuscule amount of leave as they receive to either conclude a marriage or settle family emergencies. As such, it is difficult to disagree with the conclusion of the International Labor Organization (ILO) that paternity leave is usually short because the father is expected to care for their newborn by either working full-time or temporarily assisting the child’s mother (Addati et al., 2014, p.65).
In light of this, there are growing calls to amend such laws, particularly among Ethiopians working in advocate groups, in order to ensure that the responsibilities for caring for newborns and infants are equitably distributed among men and women in Ethiopia. In this regard, some even seek to duplicate aspects of the flexible, creative, and generous paternity leave policies seen in some Western countries. However, calls to follow the example of legislation from Western countries fail to consider the fact that paternity leave take-up rates continue to be very low in those countries where such legislation exists. While some Scandinavian countries are notable exceptions, the continuing trend of fathers opting out from taking leave available to them indicates that a more traditional orientation towards gender roles with respect to parenting and division of labour continues to persist in most countries even when progressive legislation is in place. As such, it is important to understand why some countries do have high paternity leave take-up rates by assessing the great lengths they went to in combating entrenched gender stereotypes prior to adopting parental leave policies.
It is clear that Scandinavian governments in particular understand the intrinsic link between societal expectations, gender norms, and domestic work. This has been demonstrated through efforts to combat gender stereotypes in advertisements, children’s shows, and other mediums of popular culture, and through numerous legislative measures that seek to protect women from the type of gender discrimination that is based on such stereotypes. Many academics have assessed paternity leave policies within this framework of gender construction, with more than 30 years of academic research showing how paid employment and unpaid domestic work is directly linked to the gendered societal expectations placed on both men and women. Therefore, to understand the gendered division of domestic work and the resulting paucity of paternity leave provision in most countries, it is important to reflect on how the identity of fatherhood is constructed and maintained via norms, socialisation, self-image, and, ultimately, legislation.
One of the most consistent barriers to men assuming increased responsibilities for childcare, particularly in Ethiopia, is the entrenched and persistent identification of the father as the family’s primary breadwinner. Underlying this identity is the assumption that caring for one’s family is measured by the bringing of resources, whereby income from wage work is considered to be the essential and defining criterion of fatherhood. In contrast, providing care by staying at home and engaging in the life and development of the child is considered to be very much a voluntary and secondary concern for the father.
Because of this, while the breadwinner identity is affirmatively defined by the father’s income and wage labour, it is negatively defined by what the man does not do, making unpaid domestic work and childcare the quintessential and defining criteria of motherhood. This not only explains why childcare and housework are usually considered feminine spaces but also why a man doing such work is usually perceived as strange, diminished, or making an extraordinary sacrifice. Consequently, in order to understand why Ethiopia’s paternity leave policy is insufficient, particularly in the private sector, it is important to take note of the socially accepted norm that designates mothers as primary childcare providers while fathers are expected to provide income for the family.
Unfortunately, because cultural norms designate fathers as secondary caregivers, this results in negative societal outcomes. In this instance, barely existent provisions for paternity leave have a direct detrimental impact on all members of the family, because studies continue to show extended paternity leave has positive effects on fathers’ wellbeing as well as children’s behavioural outcomes. Furthermore, having paternity leave policies that enable the father to be an active co-parent has been shown to be beneficial to the mother’s mental health and career trajectory (Chatterji, Pinka, & Markowitz, Sara, 2008). Several studies indicate a positive relationship between men’s involvement in domestic tasks and the incorporation of women into secure and paid employment. Thus, increasing fathers’ involvement in the responsibilities of childcare will not only facilitate the return of mothers to the labour market but will also negate some of the discriminatory penalties imposed on women by employers due to the perceived productivity loss associated with taking maternity leave.
It is for these reasons that Ethiopia’s parental leave policy not only needs reform but must also be reformed in a way that challenges the dichotomous and entrenched identities of motherhood and fatherhood.
With an increasing number of women entering the workforce, continuing a policy that disproportionately burdens mothers with childcare responsibilities will not only hinder women’s careers but will also encourage employers to view motherhood as a negative factor in their hiring and promotion decisions. As such, one way of challenging the breadwinner–primary caregiver binary is to have a policy that allows parents to assume parental care in the first few months by giving equal parental leave provision to mothers and fathers. Such a policy, coupled with other legislative efforts, will challenge the gendered construct that childcare and housework are feminine spaces, limit the trade-offs women are continually forced to make between career development and childcare, and, not least, deter employers from discriminating against women because of the assumption a woman employee will take extended leave sometime in the future.
About the author
Mahider has a background and an interest in Human Rights Law specifically on the rights of vulnerable groups and women. She was responsible for the implementation of project STRACE-CHR (Support teaching, research and community engagement in Human Rights); mobilising resources and following up on project activity. She has worked for Plan International Ethiopia on Gender mainstreaming, gender equality and human rights and on the rights of refugees. She has also provided technical support to community rights promoters, evaluated their activities and gave training. As an assistant researcher, she has been engaging in data collection, coding, analysing, ethical review and supervising the research process and teams. Overall, Mahider has excellent training, communication, research, organisation, and project implementation skills.
Includovate is a feminist research incubator that “walks the talk”. Includovate is an Australian social enterprise consisting of a consulting firm and research incubator that designs solutions for gender equality and social inclusion. Its mission is to incubate transformative and inclusive solutions for measuring, studying, and changing discriminatory norms that lead to poverty, inequality, and injustice. To know more about us at Includovate, follow our social media: @includovate, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram. Help our campaign, help #IncludovateRaisesTheBar
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