22 October 2021

3 months paternity leave: but mothers and fathers are not equal

The "Family Act" measure announced by Equal Opportunities Minister Bonetti at the Women's Forum G20 Italy. But if greater male participation is desirable, the equalitarian logic that inspires sharing moves once again in the direction of the neutral, denying female difference and promoting ineffective actions
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During the opening in Milan of the "Women's Forum G20 Italy". the Minister for Equal Opportunities Elena Bonetti announced the plans to gradually extend compulsory paternity leave from the current 10 days to 3 months, as part of the 'Family Act'. 

The extension - and in some cases the equalisation - of leave for fathers and mothers is presented as a progressive policy aimed at achieving greater 'gender equality'. in the family and at work, as well as encouraging a sharing of the burdens of care that today weigh disproportionately on women and often without formal or material recognition.

Referring to the lengthening of the period of compulsory leave for fathers after the birth of a daughter, Bonetti states theobjective of 'equalising male and female responsibility'. At a time in history when the concept of "rights'. is extended to include the most varied individual wishes, the emphasis on the concept of responsibility. In the area of parenting, too, there is a discourse on rights that mainly represents the wishes of adults and rarely focuses on children. For example, the use of surrogacy and medically-assisted fertilisation is claimed as a 'right' that the state should guarantee, overlooking the reasons for the business and the implications in terms of morality and physical and psychological health for women and children.

Returning to the measure under discussion, the current government's guidelines and the PNRR often mention the need to increase female employment to achieve 'gender equality'. In the 1970s, feminism criticised the concept of 'emancipation' and 'equality', which ended up proposing homologation to the male model, denying the free expression of female difference. A lesson that seems to have been forgotten today, even though it would offer useful insights into why many 'well-intentioned' equalitarian policies are not producing the desired change, but merely encourage women to 'be like men'adhering to a model that is still firmly masculine and patriarchal.

The increase of compulsory leave time for fathers would, according to supporters, serve to reduce the costs for companies of hiring a woman (new mother and/or potential new mother) compared to those of a man (new father and/or potential new father). The effectiveness of this measure should be assessed ex-post: caring and family burdens do not end after the first three months of a child's life and do not only concern women who have children. There should be a debate to consider why voluntary leave is not used by fathers today, and therefore whether making this measure compulsory would contribute to 'educational' purposes or instead to changing the balance of power that generates most of the injustices suffered by women everywhere.

If it is true that 'it takes a village to raise a child', this measure could perhaps also go some way towards reducing the physical and moral loneliness experienced by women who become mothers in the West. In any case, To put the father and mother on an equal footing, even if only verbally, in the first months of life is still an objective that is the result of a cultural approach that is neutral and needs to be discussed and tested.

Instead, generating change requires full recognition of the difference betweenIt should be explored in order to reform the model in practice, taking into account the free expression of female difference, difference that grounds the human and demands to be able to shape the world, domestic and public.

If they do not recognise difference, equality policies risk becoming "policies of indifference", unfair and inscribed in the symbolic male order alone. 

Veronica Tamborini

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