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PARENTAL LEAVE

Parental leave ‘traps’ immigrants at home

Less parental leave for those who have just arrived in Sweden with kids will help getting immigrant women out on the labour market, according to two Swedish experts.

“This report points to a very real problem and may offer part of an explanation of why it takes so long to get out on the labour market,” Minister for Integration, Erik Ullenhaag said to daily Dagens Nyheter (DN).

According to statistics, ‘women born outside of Sweden’ is the group that is finding it the most difficult to establish themselves on the labour market.

In a report to the ministry of finance, scientists Åsa Olli Segendorf and Tommi Teljosuo argue that parental leave traps immigrant women in poverty and is often used as a social benefit for several years, keeping women in the home.

Instead they promote the idea of linking the amount of parental leave allotted when a foreign-born child arrives in Sweden with its age on arrival. That way the older the child is, the shorter the amount of time off would be.

Today, anyone who arrives in Sweden are entitled to 16 months of parental benefit (föräldrapenning) for their child, even if the child is four or five when he or she arrives in Sweden. The basic level of parental leave is 5,400 kronor ($857) tax-free per child per month.

The scientists also want to scrap the childcare allowance (vårdnadsbidraget), a benefit strongly promoted by the Christian Democrats, which provides parents with up to 3,000 kronor tax-free per child per month.

In effect since July 1st, 2008, the childcare allowance is available to parents of children aged one to three years old who forego the option of sending their children to a publicly financed preschool.

Not only do parental leave and the childcare allowance constitute obstacles for women to enter the workforce, but they also hamper older children who could have begun pre-school and started learning Swedish immediately, the authors claim.

Erik Ullenhaag wants to look into the report.

“The basic level of parental benefits is 5,400 kronor per month, which I believe can provide quite a strong incentive to stay at home,” Ullenhaag said to DN.

But not everyone is as positive to this explanation. Party Secretary for the Christian Democrats, Acko Anckarberg, is not impressed by the report.

“They are highlighting family politics as the problem when it really is about not being able to get a job and being shut out of the jobs on the market, “ she said to DN.

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MOTHER

Swedish dads stay home as mothers work

With Sweden's solid paternity laws and encouraged gender equality, AFP's Camille Bas-Wohlert examines how Swedish fathers are more involved in raising their children than fathers in other countries are.

Swedish dads stay home as mothers work

At the Humlegården park in central Stockholm, Anders Weide keeps an eye on his young daughter Alma sleeping in her pram as he waits for a friend who’s gone to change his son’s diaper.

In Sweden, the image surprises no one.

“It’s very important to see fathers walking in town with prams, it sets an example,” explains Malmö University sociologist Lars Plantin, who specializes in parenting issues.

Numerous sociological studies have shown that Swedish fathers are more involved in raising their children and domestic chores than fathers in other countries, Plantin noted.

They frequently drop off and pick up their children at school and accompany them to after-school activities. They take days off work to care for their sick kids, they put band-aids on scrapes and cook meals: Swedish fathers are now expected to share the tasks that once belonged solely to mothers.

In a sign of the times, a monthly magazine called “Pappa” has been published since 2011, targeting “the man who aims to invest time in his children, his relationships and his career.”

Even at the highest levels of business and politics, fathers are involved in family life and the home.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has often spoken of his passion for hoovering and cleaning. While he and his ex-wife Filippa may now be divorced with three children, when they were married she was able to climb the ladder of her own political career while he ran the country’s affairs.

Since 1976, couples who separate or divorce in Sweden are by default awarded joint custody, with many children spending one week with mum and one week with dad.

“The prevailing thinking is that the child does best when he or she has good relationships with both parents, which encourages the idea of joint custody,” says Anna Singer, a professor of civil law at Uppsala University.

“The system encourages fathers to take their responsibilities, it has encouraged people,” she adds.

Sweden’s long tradition of gender equality naturally plays a role.

“Gender equality is a prerequisite for Sweden to progress. It’s not a purely ideological issue, it’s an economic one also,” Plantin says.

Sweden “can’t afford to have half its population excluded from the job market. It’s not about leaving the men at home, but getting women to work more,” he explains.

Official figures from Eurostat show that 77.2 percent of women in Sweden held down a job in 2011, the highest level in the European Union.

Children are guaranteed a spot in day care from the age of 12 months for a very modest sum, making it possible for women to return to work.

Yet Sweden still has a way to go in terms of equality in the workplace.

While 82 percent of children have two working parents, only 42 percent of women work full-time compared to 74 percent of men, according to Statistics Sweden.

And when it comes to what is considered the symbol of gender equality, Sweden’s generous 16-month parental leave that can be taken by either mothers or fathers, women still take the majority of it, claiming 75 percent.

When it was introduced in 1974, mothers took 99.5 percent of it. When one month was reserved for fathers in 1995 under a “use it or lose it” system, fathers slowly began staying home with their children.

In 2002, a second month was reserved for fathers, and they have no excuse not to take it: parental leave can be used any time up until the child turns eight years old.

“We’re heading in the right direction, but it’s going too slowly,” says Ulrika Haggström, analyst at the TCO white collar workers’ union.

She thinks at least three months should be reserved for dads.

For Anders Weide in the park, spending time with his daughter was a “natural” choice. He has been home with her on paternity leave since January.

“I would have missed out on the relationship I have with Alma if I hadn’t done it. We’re closer as a family,” he says. Employed in healthcare, he plans to go back to work in September.

While employers have to let both mothers and fathers take their parental leave, some workplaces are more understanding than others.

“My colleagues, especially the men, weren’t very understanding,” admits Set

Moklint, 31, who works as an emergency call centre operator.

But he welcomes the extra economic incentive provided by the Social Insurance Agency: parents who share their parental leave both get a bonus throughout their leave.

“It gives us 120 euros ($155) extra each per month. We would have done it even without the bonus, but it helps,” he says.

Fathers’ involvement in the home also plays a part in Sweden’s high birth rate, according to Lotta Persson, an analyst at Statistics Sweden.

In 2011, with 1.9 children per woman, the Scandinavian country came in just behind Ireland and France in Eurostat’s statistics.

AFP/The Local/og

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