Switzerland Just Passed Paid Paternity Leave. Where Does That Leave the US?

Most American dads are still on their own.

man taking care of baby
Breaking: Dads need time off to take care of their children too.
Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Congratulations are in order to new dads in Switzerland, who are now entitled to 10 days of paid paternity leave after welcoming a new child into the world. The nation voted in favor of the law mandating paid leave for fathers Sunday, overcoming strong conservative backlash that forced the issue into a referendum after the law was initially approved by Parliament last year.

Under the new law, biological fathers will be able to take 10 days of paid leave within six months of the birth of a child, and will be entitled to receive 80 percent of their salary during this time. Previously, new fathers in Switzerland were only granted one day off after welcoming a newborn, the same time given for moving homes, according to the New York Times.

While the new law represents a significant step forward for families and gender equality in the nation, cautious celebrators have been quick to point out shortcomings in the new legislation — including the fact that paid leave does not extend to adoptive or same-sex parents, as well as the fact that Switzerland lags considerably behind most of its European neighbors in implementing paid paternity leave. Moreover, Switzerland’s new 10-day policy also falls significantly short of the paid paternity leave granted throughout the European Union, which last year passed a directive requiring EU states to extend parental leave to four months.

Meanwhile, this all has a tendency to cast the United States, which is home to no form of universal parental leave, in a particularly unflattering light. Switzerland, a country known for lagging behind on issues of gender equality, now joins almost 100 nations worldwide offering paternity leave, meaning the U.S. has now fallen behind the same nation that required women to get permission from their husbands to work outside the home until 1988. Not a great look.

Switzerland’s 10-day policy for new dads may be a bit modest compared to the months of leave offered new dads in the EU, but it’s still a significantly longer period than the approximately zero days many dads in the U.S. get after welcoming a new child to the family. Only a few states in the U.S. offer government-mandated paternity leave, including New York, California, Washington, D.C., New Jersey and New Hampshire. Fathers in the rest of the country have to depend on their individual employers’ policies if they hope to take any kind of paid paternity leave at all.

Besides the obvious fact that welcoming a child into the world is a major life event that requires most people to take some time off of work, a lack of paid paternity leave also signals and reinforces a number of insidious, regressive beliefs and mindsets about gender, sexuality, parenting and family structures still at large in American society today.

Not only do distinctions between maternity and paternity leave suggest a cis/heteronormative understanding of parenthood, but this privileging of maternal time off also reinforces the idea of parenting as primarily a mother’s responsibility. Study after study has suggested that women still bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities, often to the detriment of their own careers. But how can we expect fathers to take a more active role in their children’s lives and upbringing when they’re told, literally from day one of fatherhood, that their career is more important and they should be back in the office as soon as possible?

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