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Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC) and Rwanda Civil Society Platform (RCSP) are calling for six weeks of paternity leave for a male employee whose spouse has given birth (half the time of maternity leave) to take care of the mother and new-born baby.

Article 56 of the law regulating labour in Rwanda gives maternity leave of at least 12 consecutive weeks to a female employee who has given birth, while article 21 of the law establishing the general statutes governing public servants, and article 2 of the Ministerial Order determining circumstantial leaves, give four working days of circumstantial or incidental leave to a male employee whose spouse has given birth.

According to a policy brief by RWAMREC, the discrepancy in the treatment of parents affects the ability of a male parent to support the mother and infant, especially in cases where the mother may fall sick or have post-partum complications.

This policy brief titled “Overcoming the barriers, filling the gaps and addressing challenges to make paternity leave a living reality in Rwanda”, is the outcome of a collaborative effort of RWAMREC and RCSP to advocate for more positive fatherhood towards early childcare in Rwanda.

“During a policy dialogue with different stakeholders, it was unanimously suggested that parental leave should at least be equivalent to half the leave permitted to the mother in the best interest of the child as prescribed by the UN Child Convention,” reads part of the brief.

In line with their mission, RCSP and RWAMREC intend to carry out advocacy initiatives on the recent findings from a rapid assessment related to gaps, barriers and challenges for a more inclusive parental leave.

The rapid assessment is titled, “Paternity Leave. Understanding gaps, barriers and challenges for a gender-sensitive parental leave.”

According to the assessment, it is common in Rwandan culture to see women taking on the bulk of responsibility for parenting, especially in the early months.

From conception onwards, mothers will take the lead in almost all aspects of childcare (feeding, diaper changing, washing, early vaccination and medical checks). In terms of parenting, a man’s role is thus perceived “as limited to putting food on the table” and – once basic needs are provided for – the “rest is not his business”.

The assessment also pointed out that fathers rarely engage in childcare when children are below the age of three, which is unfortunate because the first three years are critical for their development such as cognitive, emotional, physical and language development. It also indicated that fathers are more likely to become involved when children are “walking and talking”.

Maternal gatekeeping bias

Maternal gatekeeping refers to a mother’s protective beliefs about how much a father should be involved in their children’s lives. It also involves the behaviours between parents that either support or restrict co-parenting.

According to RWAMREC, informants reported that maternal gatekeeping does occur in Rwandan households and that some fathers feel disempowered and excluded from childcare as men feel “women are the ones to take charge”.

“Indeed, commonly shared beliefs are not something only men should be exclusively blamed for. Consciously or unconsciously, women also participate in these social constructs,” reads part of the policy brief.

In Rwandan culture, it is common for both mother and baby to move to another room, as mothers strongly believe that caring for the newborn is their primary and almost exclusive role. - Patrick Nzabonimpa, The New Times

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