The changes were announced by President Macron, who said 80% of the population support the plan. It will put France among the European leaders for fathers’ rights, along with Spain, Sweden, Norway and Portugal.
Part of the four weeks will be obligatory but how long has not been announced and details of fathers’ pay have yet to be negotiated. The employers’ federation, Medef, welcomes the move but worries it will cost companies up to €300million. The measures are due to be introduced next July.
Good step towards equal rights
Virgine Durin, vice-president of Familles-de-France, a leading association that represents family rights, believes it is an important step forward for new parents: “The first few days are not long enough for the father to find his place in the home. For example, if the mother learns to bath the baby before the father, she will be less likely to hand over this task to him because she might be worried he will not know how to do it. But if they learn together from the start, they are more likely both to bath the baby later on.”
Making part of paternity leave obligatory, she said, is crucial: “Too many men still do not dare to take paternity leave because of fear of their employer’s reaction. The attitude persists that as the woman is physically having the baby, the father does not need to be there. There also needs to be sufficient remuneration to encourage fathers to stay on for the voluntary period, as some couples might lose too much money if both are at home. It is a shame it is not being introduced until next year, and it seems a little like electioneering as it will be nearer the 2022 presidential elections, but we are enthusiastic about the measure.”
New measures for the new generations
She does not think mothers will resent the father’s presence in what has long been their central role: “I think the new generation are happy to share and women are far less protective of their powerful mother role than they were. Couples do more activities together now, without applying his or her labels to jobs. If they buy DIY furniture, they will make it together. Women still do most of the housework, but it will probably take another generation to sort that out.”
Few countries in Europe have more than two weeks’ paternity leave, and many have less. In the UK, fathers can choose between one and two weeks and statutory pay is the lowest of either £151.20 or 90% of average weekly earnings. In Portugal, there is no distinct maternity and paternity leave, but 120 days of parental leave paid at 100%, or 180 days paid at 80%, which can be shared between parents.