This week, Girls’ Globe is highlighting examples of Nordic feminism. The Nordics – Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland – are often thought to represent the model for gender equality in terms of education, health care, political and civic participation, and equality in the workforce and pay. One area where the Nordics are also considered trailblazers is maternity and family support – something that is inherently interlinked with feminism, gender equality and women’s empowerment.
It is easy to assume that there is controversy between motherhood and feminism – becoming a mother means giving up part of your independence, and almost everywhere in the world, the primary caregiver is still considered to be the mother. This inevitably means that women end up sacrificing their careers – or at least slowing down their career development – for the sake of starting a family.
Women should not have to choose between career and family any more than men – and some of the policies in place in the Nordic countries represent ways to support women’s empowerment and gender equality and could potentially offer models for other countries to follow in their effort to promote women’s participation, gender equality and women’s empowerment.
My native country Finland offers approximately four months of paid maternity leave for the mother, and nearly five months of paid parental leave which can be taken by either parent. This means that for up to 9 months, a parent can stay home with the baby with almost full pay – and job security. Mothers still usually use the whole nine months, but fathers taking up a growing share of the parental leave is becoming more common. In addition to maternity and parental leave, fathers get special paternity leave, which can be taken simultaneously with the mother – allowing both parents to remain home together with their newborn child. Some countries, such as Sweden and Iceland, are coming up with policies to proactively promote for a more equal division of parental responsibilities. In Sweden, parents are entitled to 480 days of parental leave, 60 of which are reserved for the dad. In an effort to encourage a more equal division of the parental leave, Sweden also gives a gender equality bonus (jämställdhetsbonus) in the form of an extra daily payment if 270 days of the parental leave are divided equally between the mother and father. Iceland went even further, passing a law that gave three months of non-transferable parental leave to both mothers and father – and additional three months which would be split as the parents saw fit. The law has resulted in over 90% of Icelandic fathers taking paternity leave, and in a more equal division of parenting between fathers and mothers. The country plans to push it even further by turning the 3-3-3 model into 5-5-2, in which each parent gets 5 months of non-transferable leave and 2 months that can be taken by either.
Denmark provides what is called guaranteed day-care availability, which means that all children between the ages of 26 weeks up to 6 years are offered a full-time spot in a day-care facility. Norway introduced a law that requires at least 40% of public limited company board members to be women – a law that would never be possible in a country without strong maternal and family benefits and support systems that allow women to combine family and career, on an equal stance with their male counterparts.
In most countries, these kinds of laws and policies are unheard of – and often met with disbelief and even resentment, as they can be seen as government hand-outs or charity. It is essential to realize that strong maternity benefits and family friendly policies are not handouts, but tools to ensure that women and men not only get to participate in the labor force on an equal basis – but that women and men can also enjoy equal parenting roles as mothers and fathers, both just as essential for their children’s well-being and development. Such policies promote feminism and gender equality, but also highlight the importance of fathers as caregivers and parents. Equality in the workplace requires equality in the home – and in a country where both are achieved, it is both men and women who benefit and win.
The Nordic countries are far from perfect, and have ways to go before real gender equality is achieved – but they are already well on their way. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, more countries will start following their lead.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Jelle Druyts.