Shifting Attitudes Prepare China’s Fathers for Parenting Role
wechat_bg

2017-06-17 06:04:02

Not all fathers are treated equal in China, at least not when it comes to paternity leave.

But the eastern province of Jiangsu is set to become the latest province — after Gansu, Henan, and Yunnan — to grant 30 days of paternity leave, the most anywhere in China. Jiangsu released a draft law this week to gauge public opinion on doubling its current 15-day leave period.

With the one-child policy now a thing of the past, China is urging couples to have a second child, aiming to address both the slowing birth rate and a society that is rapidly aging. Along with plans to provide new parents with “birth rewards and subsidies,” more and more cities and provinces have been extending maternal and paternal leave. Some view these policies as a way to increase the number of births, which will, ultimately, expand the young labor force and boost the country’s economy. Others, however, say the policies reflect a change in traditionally gendered notions of parenting.

“Similar policies on paternity leave have been proposed and discussed before, and this has influenced Jiangsu,” Li Xuan, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University Shanghai, told Sixth Tone. “[More provinces following suit] may have to do with the two-child policy, as more children mean more work and more responsibilities for the parents. The 30-day holiday is better than having no holidays or a just few days — it’s a step forward. It’s time for people to recognize the importance of fathers’ participation in child care.”

In China, as in many parts of the world, fathers have traditionally been seen as the family breadwinners, while women have been entrusted with the responsibility of raising children. Though women have become a vital component of the changing workforce in China, experts say that the traditional interpretation of gender roles means that the “burden of raising children has always sat disproportionately on [women’s] shoulders.” They argue that it’s time for Chinese men to demonstrate their paternal instincts.

Qiu Jiacheng, a 28-year-old business consultant and new father from Shanghai, is among those who mirror the changing face of fatherhood in China. He places himself among a legion of male feminists who aspire to stand up to misogynistic views on traditional gender roles and take pride in becoming stay-at-home dads.

“Paternity leave is definitely a necessity — I can draw from my own experience,” Qiu told Sixth Tone. “Being present during childbirth allowed me to feel the greatness of mothers. It also helped me cultivate a stronger sense of responsibility.”

But while Qiu believes that adequate paternity leave helps families share the stress of raising a young child, he still thinks that Shanghai’s 10-day offering should be extended. Although other provinces are enacting new legislation, China’s labor laws have neither clear guidelines on leave for fathers nor a uniform nationwide leave policy. Some have called the paternity leave policy “an embarrassing false reality,” complaining of inadequate company regulations and lost wages.

Globally, countries are increasingly passing national guidelines. The International Labour Organization, a global labor regulatory body, doesn’t recommend specific standards but did say in its 2013 report that paternity leave is becoming more common, which is “an indicator of the growing importance attached to the presence of the father around the time of childbirth.”

Countries like Sweden, which has some of the most liberal paternity leave laws, gives new dads three months off work after the baby is born. The Scandinavian country has even expressed hopes to inspire Chinese men to participate more equally in parenting: Earlier this year, the Swedish Consulate in Shanghai called on Chinese dads to share their photos of fatherhood for a China-Sweden photo exhibition, which is currently on display in various parts of the city.

However, experts like Li say that while a shift in policy is an encouraging step toward achieving gender equality, authorities should also be more considerate about its practicalities — namely, salary arrangements and the degree to which the state compensates companies for lost labor.

“The policy has good intentions, but it needs more expert opinions to be effectively implemented,” Li said.

Additional reporting: Li You; editor: Matthew Walsh.

(Header image: A new father kisses his infant child at a hospital in Xiangyang, Hubei province, June 17, 2016. Gong Bo/VCG)