The PM announced last evening that men will also be entitled to paternity leave, similar to women's maternity leave, to look after their just borned child. Everyone in the University Cultural Centre auditorium that I could see through the TV broadcast clapped in approval, particularly the women amongst them. The rationale? PM related an example of a women who voiced her fears that she would be forgotten by her employer if she took as long as 6 months maternity leave. So fathers should step in to shoulder this burden by being allowed to take similar leave to share the burden of nursing the baby. All of which is dandy, until you think about it further.
Would men not also be forgotten at the workplace when they take paternity leave? The couple can now share equally the 4 months of maternity leave that women are entitled to, that is 2 months each. And even supposing it is 1 month out of the 4 for the men, it is probably 1 month too long for the men to be absent from the office. In this dog-eat-dog world, if you are not around, you need not be around, period. So sharing this load might lead to both of the couple, the mother and the father, to become expendable employees. Which is better - to have one expendable person or two?
So those cheering and clapping last evening should stop and think again what paternity leave really entails. The "absence" problem is already raised above. The second question that needs asking is: are all fathers capable of looking after and handling an infant? We know what maternal instincts are. Is there such a thing as a men's version of it, i.e. a paternal instinct? Sadly, experience tells us that the answer is not clear. What is the proportion of clumsy and incompetent men when it comes to nursing an infant? I don't know, and I suspect, the people who clamoured for and the government which said yes to paternity leave last evening don't know either. Yes, I know of men who love children (and I mean that in a "straight" way). My mother often mentions that my uncle loves children. I love children too. In fact I played a big part in taking care of my infant son, without the benefit of paternity leave. My wife will attest to this. But this is anecdotal. There probably are more men who are clueless and view infant care as a woman-only job. Worst, men tend to be more impatient, with the frightening consequence that the child may suffer rather than be cared for.
PM said in jest that men, if they are given paternity leave, should use it for that very purpose. Everyone may have laughed at that remark, but it is a disturbing reaction, to say the least. There is really really a high chance that paternity leave may be abused. After all, no one can police this. The wife can't and won't say a thing. The husband who abuses it will certainly keep quiet about using his paternity leave to do other things. You expect the maid to complain to the authorities?
There are probably other reasons that make paternity leave a bad idea. The issue, really, is not about the leave - maternity or paternity, much as many mothers wish to believe that it is. This will not go anywhere near helping to resolve the problem of low fertility among Singaporeans.
I believe that I will be proven correct one year from the implementation of this policy.