This article is part of our #FirstWord series to provide context on trending news.
A bill seeking to make paternity leave for men in private and public employment legal has been rejected by the Nigerian House of Representatives. The bill was centered around granting a two week paternity leave for husbands after their wives have just delivered.
What’s this about?
The bill, sponsored by Edward Pwajok, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Plateau state, argued men needed some days off work to attend to mother and child after birth and pointed out that the optional paternity leave would afford them that.
“There’s no better person to support a newly born baby than the father which will make the child more emotionally stable if the father stays close. This will not be peculiar to Nigeria alone, it’s done globally” - Edward Pwajok.
To become law, the bill needed to pass the First and Second Reading at the House of Representatives, Committee Stage and a Third Reading before being sent off to the Senate for concurrence and finally to the President for his assent. However, the bill did not scale its first reading because lawmakers were not convinced that fathers needed to be present after the birth of their child(ren) .
Why was the bill rejected?
The rejection of the bill was based on cultural reasons. Some senators argued that men were supposed to be out providing upkeep for the family and not taking care of children. A Member from Rivers state, Kingsley Chinda, opined that men had no role to play in carrying a pregnancy, it was therefore not their responsibility to babysit.
“The woman carried the child for nine months. The leave is for the woman not the man. I don’t think that, of all the serious issues out there, our constituents will be happy seeing us on live television debating a bill on paternity leave” - Kingsley Chinda
With polygamy being common in some parts of the country, another argument against the bill was on the possibility of a father taking paternity leave several times a year. The members wondered how many times in a year a man with two or three wives would take a leave of absence to cater for his wives and children.
Is paternity leave really important?
Yes, it is. When childcare responsibilities fall exclusively on the mother, it has a negative effect on her career growth and wages. Constant time out of the labour force deprives women of experience and relevant promotions, this effect is minimal when men participate in childcare too.
Also, fathers who are granted paternity leave are more likely to play an active role in child care tasks. Early social interaction has longer-term benefits for a child’s learning abilities. Studies show that paternity leave improves children’s performance at secondary schools.
In all, it helps to promote a more stable family and create a great work-life balance.
It is unlikely that a bill on paternity leave will be considered beyond the cultural lens. The Nigerian parliament has a record of shutting down bills based on gender equality. In 2016, they stopped a bill looking to guarantee women similar rights and opportunities with their male counterparts.