Apparently, there is a bit of an uproar about a comment by a political official in Ireland who referred to the possibility that a company would be more likely to hire a man instead of a woman if the EU were to pass a law offering 20 weeks of maternity leave and 2 weeks of paternity leave. It's not often the masses get angry when additional social benefits are offered which is what makes this story interesting.
Unfortunately, the official used the term 'buxom' to refer to a woman which is generating much of the buzz but columnist Carol Hunt got right down to the meat of the matter. "Granted, the new legislation proposing two weeks of paid paternity leave is a big improvement on none, but shouldn't parents have equal responsibility for their children? Physical and post-partum issues aside, the father of a child has both a right and a duty to demand equal time with a new baby. It's called being a family -- something that, despite all our adulation of the Irish Mammy, we only pay lip-service to in Ireland."
Ms. Hunt goes on to point out that women would be more than happy to share the childcare responsibilities if it were an option. In addition, she claims that, "Practically every new father complains that he would love more time to stay home with a new baby, to bond with them and to feel a part of the new family that they have helped to create."
Her conclusion is spot-on, "If we are to create a sustainable economy with a healthy work/life balance, we have to sensibly combine fair periods of both maternity and paternity leave with far more family- friendly policies in the workplace. We need to challenge the assumption that women are the sole child-carers and men are the primary breadwinners."
Presumably, there are already laws to against gender discrimination in hiring practices, both in Ireland and here in the US but the reality is that unequal leave policies may exacerbate the problem of gender inequality in both the home and in the workplace. Isn't it time to follow the commonsense approach of parental leave? We could eliminate the bias against hiring women and then tackle the cultural assumptions around parental roles.