BusinessDay

Beyond enacting paternity leave: A work-family perspective on ‘fatherhood’ in Nigeria

Sociologists attribute ‘parenting’ as a key function of the family, which also contributes to the production of labour force for operating work organisations. Thus, ‘work’ and ‘family’ are two mutually re-enforcing departments of the human existence, of which outcome significantly accounts for the happiness and fulfilment of a person. Consequently, work must not be allowed to flourish at the detriment of parenting (or family life).

Parenting a child is not complete without the full involvement of the father. Although gender division of labour in African cultures tends to construct ‘child upbringing’ as a largely domestic affair within which purview, men have relatively limited roles to play. Truth remains that parenting is not complete without the full participation of the father.

While governments and policy makers in more developed countries have created enabling environment for realising this, little has been done in Nigeria and most African countries. The recent approval of paternity leave by the Nigerian government, and its subsequent enactment into law, therefore, inspires a work-family discourse on the matter. This is what this article seeks to achieve, while also instigating thinking beyond the 14-day leave for paternity of a newborn.

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Fathers, mostly being family breadwinners, are usually not available at home, due to the demands of the need for a livelihood in today’s occupational contexts. They get so worked up that they are unable to afford bonding with, care for or show of love to their newborn, beyond the provision of material resources. Such fathers may be physically at home, but ‘unhomely’, due to spillover stress and strain from work. Yet, restorative rest and leisure are widely perceived as mere luxuries in the African clime! This impedes the psycho-social pillar on which familial relationships necessarily must thrive for a strong societal regeneration, evident in widespread decadence of younger generations. Bridging this gap requires a policy that supports men to become more participatory in child parenting. Given the fragmented nature of life today, there is the need for a deliberate integration of work and family, beyond the scope of paternity leave.

The new policy, according to BusinessDay, provides paternity leave of a two-week period, work-free-with-pay, for a man whose spouse has given birth, or in occasion where a baby of less than four months is adopted. This, according to the Head of the Civil Service of the federation, is to ease the pressure on men and also assist them in bonding with their newborn. While this increasing sensitivity of the Nigerian government is commendable, there is also the need to factor in the demands of parenting the child, particularly at such critical stage.

The question also arises as to whether the two-week period is sufficient for fathers to provide the requisite care for their spouses while also bonding with their newborn. It is important to begin to consider this in line with developments in the global north, where countries like Australia are beginning to provide leave of between 12 and 20 months to nursing fathers. This may be attributed to the observed impact of paternity leave, on fathers, families, work productivity and society at large.

Given the fragmented nature of life today, there is the need for a deliberate integration of work and family, beyond the scope of paternity leave

Quality paternity leave also ensures that fathers are not ‘alienated’ from their offspring and spouses with whom they had journeyed the nine (9) months of pregnancy – one of the several dimensions from which Marx decried the organisation of work under capitalism.

However, the two-week leave offered by the new policy, may only afford fathers time to prepare for christening, which follows every childbirth. During this period, the home is even greeted by visitors, which may undermine the much-anticipated bonding. By the time the visitors begin to depart, it would have been almost time for the father to resume work, which tends to render the paternity leave, a period in futility, with spill-over family- work conflict, due to the psychological and socio-economic demands of fathering during such critical periods. If not properly managed, this could generate series of problems across work-family divides, including stress, frustration, inefficiency and diminished productivity and sense of fulfilment. Work may become perceived as inimical to the aspiration of the worker and his family.

Work-Life Integration (WLI) has become a strategy for managing such potentially conflicting situations. This includes the use of ICT for remote work, WLI-supporting policies, work-shifts, or flexi-schedules for employees. These are critical for enhancing productivity for male employees of reproductive age, beyond the 14-day paternity leave. The Nigerian civil service, therefore, needs to eschew conservatism, while embracing progressive systems with adequate technologies that drive productivity as obtain in developed countries. Talented and experienced employees prefer to work in ecosystems that do not violate parenting or family life.

This path could predict a happier workforce; build stronger organisations and better societies, where work demands are met, and productivity achieved without violating the various role expectations of the male employee. Government and other stakeholders, therefore, should not rest on their oars with the new feat of 14-day paternity leave. Necessarily, they must commence thinking and working on the way forward, leveraging on opportunities in WLI.

Kolo (PhD), a Sociologist, is the Research Manager at the Institute for Work and Family Integration (IWFI), Lagos. He can be reached on +2348160537933 or victor.kolo@iwfionline.org

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