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Paternity leave – still a distant dream

Imagine a New Namibia where fathers take time off from work just to care for their daughter or son. A world where the government says, “It is your right to be granted leave from your workplace because you have a new born baby.”
Recent years has seen a rise in the debate on paternity leave, an idea that is not supported by Social Security Legislation but finds an echo in Labour legislation under the Compassionate Leave section.
Paternity leave advocates typically approach the subject from the “Interest of the Child” point of view stating that the first 3 years of an infant’s development, are the most important. Bonding with both parents for longer periods is the motive.
This allows the father to be part of the newborn’s first most important stages of development and granting fathers the rights to paternity leave may empower them to be more active in the care and nurturing of a child at this crucial stage.
A small survey of businesses and organisations was conducted by the Legal Assistance Centre a few years ago, revealing that paternity leave policies are virtually non-existent although people supported  the idea. The LAC have also submitted a written proposal to the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs of the National Council.
In a recent interview with the Legal Assistance Centre, Rachel Coomer, Public Outreach Manager of the Gender Research and Advocacy Project said, “The LAC has not specifically focused on this issue recently due to competing focus areas but we continue to support our recommendations made in the submission.”
“However this year we restarted lobbying work on parental leave by advocating for longer maternity leave. At present the Social Security Commission seems to be increasing the wage ceiling for maternity leave. But we would like to see an extension of the maternity leave like many other countries across the world. We will continue to lobby on the need for improved parental leave.”
She said that paternity leave is important as it shows a sign of commitment by the government to a family-orientated society. “Maternity and paternity leave can be challenging to the smooth running of businesses, particularly small businesses but it is very important if we want to promote the family as the centre of our communities.”
Coomer said there are many social problems related to the care of children, “Starting from baby dumping and including disputes over maintenance and challenges paying school fees. By conceptualising the importance of both parents through a recognition of maternity and paternity leave, we can start to address some of these issues in a long-term strategic manner.”
In explaining, she said that the concept of parental leave has many discussion points. Another area is breastfeeding – the percentage of mothers who exclusively breastfeed their children from birth to 2 months is 53.6%, dropping to 22.9% for children aged 2 to 3 months and further dropping to 5.7% for children aged 4.5 months. “This rapid decrease is a concern given the high rate of HIV infection in Namibia and the importance of avoiding mixed feeding at a young age for these infants.”
One contributing factor is the fact that maternity leave is only three months, with one month taken before the birth of the child. Coomer said given that the World Health Organisation recommends that mothers should exclusively breastfeed their children for six months, the maternity leave provision is a push factor for many mothers to wean their children early.
Another contributing factor is the lack of public awareness about the advantages of exclusively breast feeding for six months. “The government’s National Agenda for Children states that one of its priority strategies is to ‘Promote optimal infant and young child feeding practices: early initiation of breast feeding, exclusive breast feeding for the first 6 months of life, and timely introduction of complementary feeding,’ but how does the government plan to achieve this without taking steps to allow for 6 months maternity leave. She said that for many women the push factors to wean the baby early become too much, these push factors could be alleviated if maternity leave was extended to 6 months.

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