Making parental leave work

Making parental leave work

Sweden was the first country in the world to introduce paid parental leave to both mothers and fathers, doing so as early as 1974. Parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave when a child is born or adopted. Of these, 390 days can be distributed as parents see fit, allowing for flexible use until the child is eight years old.

I fondly recall when I had the privilege of six months paternity leave to take care of our daughter and the household while my spouse (and fellow ambassador) went back to work. Balancing family and work can be challenging at times, but sharing the responsibilities made everything easier and a lot more fun and rewarding. After all, parenthood is about teamwork.

Apart from strengthened family bonds, equal parental leave provides numerous social benefits. Economically, it has contributed significantly to Sweden's growth and sustainable development. Unleashing the economic power of women leads to more equal and inclusive workplaces, which in turn generate higher productivity, innovation and well-being. In short, all of us benefit from a more gender-equal labour market. It could also help alleviate labour shortages resulting from a declining fertility rate and address the growing proportion of elderly citizens in many societies, two realities which many countries are now facing.

In this regard, I am proud to say that Sweden has one of the highest female employment rates in the world, at 80.3%, with only Iceland having more women in the work force. This is set against the global average of a mere 49%. Having to choose between a professional career and family life is potentially a waste of human resources. Everyone should have the same power to shape society and their own lives. This is a human right and a matter of democracy and justice.

Fathers who take leave to care for their children not only support their spouses in pursuing their own professional goals; they also help themselves discover their own empowerment in taking on the task of a caregiver. On that account, I salute all the unsung heroes of every family, regardless of gender, who have taken time off from their work to strengthen the bonds of this smallest yet oldest social unit we have, our family.

As I alluded to earlier, paternity leave can be an effective tool to promote gender equality at home and at the workplace through shared responsibilities. One of the most common reasons for women not to be able to take full-time employment is childcare. In many cases, taking a long period of maternity leave could result in less positive career and wage development. Having a generous and equal parental leave benefit scheme is one of the reasons why, since 2006, Sweden has never ranked lower than fifth among 150 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report conducted by the World Economic Forum.

These principles are not only reflected in the Swedish government's policies and actions. Corporates also have a central role to play in creating a more equal, healthy, inclusive and sustainable world of work. I am very pleased that Team Sweden in Thailand -- comprising of the Embassy of Sweden, Business Sweden and the Thai-Swedish Chamber of Commerce -- have joined hands with 12 Swedish–affiliated companies including IKEA, Volvo, ABB, Electrolux, AstraZeneca and Atlas Copco to pioneer an unprecedented initiative in Thailand. These companies have taken the pledge to voluntarily offer a minimum one month of paid paternity leave to their male employees to promote gender equality. I commend these companies' efforts, and I am happy that more fathers in Thailand will be able to enjoy the blessing of spending time with their children.

By gathering a group of companies to join our cause, we hope to send a strong and clear message to all the public and private agencies here in Thailand about the importance of decent working conditions in the field of parental benefits. Furthermore, I would like to warmly encourage the business executives of both Thai and foreign origin to consider granting paternity leave and to take gender equality in the world of work seriously -- if for no other reason than it makes perfect economic sense. I also would like to challenge the readers of this article to take on more responsibilities in general at home. By simply shifting our mindsets about gender equality, together we can bring about real change in each of our societies and create a more equal, prosperous, inclusive and sustainable future.

Paternity leave matters. Join our cause!

Jon Åström Gröndahl is Ambassador of Sweden to Thailand.

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