This is great news coming from Lagos State. On Thursday, July 17, the state just announced a new policy creating 10 working days paternity leave to its employees, just as it increased maternity leave from three to six months with full pay. The policy is, however, for the first two births, while subsequent births will continue with the original order.
According to Dr. Yewande Adeshina, Special Adviser on Public Health to Lagos State Governor, the six months leave would enable the nursing mother observe the state’s recommended six months exclusive breastfeeding, and by then the baby is considered “strong enough to be left in decent creche for proper care, having gone through affection and nurturing by mother”.
But that also raises a good question. If this policy is meant to promote exclusive breastfeeding, why limit the six months maternity leave to the first two births? Is the state trying to discourage women from having more than two births? That requires further interrogation and engagement, but should not derogate from this commendable and progressive policy.
On a very personal note, I have been smiling at the strange coincidence that this announcement was made on a day I started paternity leave myself. Yes, I work for an organisation (ActionAid) which provides 10 working days of paternity leave, and this has been so since it started operations in Nigeria.
For many Nigerians, the very notion of paternity leave sounds so strange. And like many things that sound strange to us, we are wont to reject it at first, question and query it and even look for excuses why that shouldn’t be or is not workable. In fact, in my discussion of the news with some men that Thursday evening, a few persons wondered what the paternity leave days are meant to be used for when I told them I was on one at the moment. So I began to explain what I have been doing and ought to do with the leave days.
Child birth is a family event and should ideally involve the mother, the father and other family members to which the child belongs. The early hours and days after birth are very significant and should be made memorable. The trips to and from the hospital, feeding, bathing, carrying, cuddling the baby and receiving and entertaining visitors (very African) are huge tasks which are draining to the body and mind. They are best shared with close family members. Apart from the mother who gives birth to the baby, who else ought to share in that task, if not the father?
Paternity leave is therefore a good means of early father-child bonding. And yes, the work would never finish or collapse if the man stays away from it for a few days. After all, if the man were down on a hospital bed, the work would go on. And so, taking those days off for the purpose of family bonding should be encouraged.
On the extended maternity leave itself, it is interesting that some people have expressed pessimism. Again, it is because it looks strange to them that women should be ‘compensated’ with six ‘whole’ months of full pay after child birth. But why not when most offices do not provide (standard) creches for nursing mothers, even when it is proved that mothers need to breastfeed their babies exclusively for that period of time for the good health of the infants? A few persons actually admitted that they know this practice exists in some ‘developed’ countries and I asked: so why can’t we do same here in Nigeria, where we pride ourselves as having even greater family-centred values?
A friend even joked that the women may soon be returning from the elongated maternity leave with new pregnancies and ready for another round of maternity leave. I can only say that such incidents already happen with the current three months (or less) maternity leave. So let’s find another solution to that.
It has been suggested that this policy could technically lead to a preference for the recruitment of male, rather than female staff for fear of long period of absence from work. That is another devil we would have to work with the state to deal with.
While we celebrate Lagos State for leading the way among governments in Nigeria on this, we need more efforts to ensure that this is replicated by other governments, including the federal. This is one area we should encourage other governments to struggle to outdo each other.
Oops, sorry I have written enough for the day. I have to go back to cuddle the baby and justify my paternity leave.
Published in The Niche of Sunday July 20, 2014.- See more at: http://www.thenicheng.com/of-paternity-leave-and-longer-maternity-leave/#sthash.jzTV5VXq.dpuf