From today, paternity leave in Belgium will officially rise from 15 days to 20 days, RTBF reports. Only 20 years ago, Belgium parents were eligible for just 10 days of paternity leave.
Despite this increase, the Family League (La Ligue des Familles) says that this is not enough. In June 2021, the League demanded that the Federal Government set up a timeline for extending the gradual extension of this parental leave.
“In Belgium, it took 20 years for paternity leave to be 20 days, since then it went to 20 days on 1 January,” Lola Galer, Research Officer for the Family League, told RTBF on Monday. "We ask that, by at least 2029, parents can enjoy 15 weeks. It is a major issue of equality between men and women."
In Belgium, few men take parental leave, due to the low compensation (€828 per month). Under the new regulations, employees and self-employed workers are entitled to a 20-day paternity leave. Although the leave is not compulsory, the Family League believes it should be.
"Today, fears related to the professional world remain very important and remain an obstacle to the fact that fathers and co-parents do not take paternity leave."
The Family League’s 2022 barometer reflects this: 26% of fathers and co-parents say that they do not take leave due to fears concerning the world of work. "It’s huge. We are asking for paternity leave to be compulsory, not to impose a constraint on the father, but to allow all fathers to take this paternity leave so that it is no longer a negotiation with the company," Galer said.
The Family League insists that they are not asking for the change overnight, but rather for an extension of one week every year until 2029. "We see for example that Spain has done it in just four days, so it is clear that family policies are possible."
Spain is generally viewed as a European leader in paternity leave. From 2020, paternity leave is equal to the duration of maternity leave – 16 weeks. New parents receive 100% of their salary. The 16 weeks can also be split up: a six-week period can be claimed after the birth of the child and additional weeks can be spread over a 12-month period following the birth.
Belgium’s paternity leave extension from 15 to 20 days is predicted to cost the state €74 million, but the organisation to view the expenditure as an investment into children and "early family policies pays off in the long run."
"There are many advantages… Women are less incapacitated for work after their pregnancy, and therefore it still brings in a lot of money since incapacity for work is very expensive."
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First and foremost, the Family League’s proposal to raise paternity leave to 15 weeks concerns improving equality between men and women. According to the advocacy group, gender equality is more or less on an equal footing before the birth of a child, but inequalities become more apparent after the child is born.
"The mother stays 15 weeks with her child at home, including more than 10 weeks alone. The mother therefore takes care of her child, but by staying at home with her child, she also takes care of the household and caretaking. Once the mother returns to work, this unequal distribution and major responsibility of home care persists," the Family League says.