By Jenny Tellström
Six per cent of those working in childcare in Sweden are men, one of the highest rates in Europe. In Ireland it’s less than 1%.
So what makes Sweden different?
Continuing our series on Men in Childcare, Jenny Tellstrom shares the experience of Sweden, where gender equality policies are transforming mens’ involvement in childrearing.
MEN GET ‘MATERNITY LEAVE’
In 1974, “maternity leave” became “parental leave” and it consists of 480 days of paid leave per couple.
Men are given equal opportunities to stay at home and it is up to every family to decide how to use the days.
Over time however, it was found that men continued to take a much smaller percentage of the leave.
In 1994, “Fathers’ Months” were introduced, meaning that 90 days of the total leave became reserved for the parent with the least days (usually the father) so that the couple would lose them if the father didn’t use them.
Men currently use 22% of the 480 days and the new generation of young males seems to have a completely different attitude towards their roles in childrearing. For many young fathers, it is now a given that they spend a few months at home with their children. With men spending more time with their children, attitudes in society towards men in childcare are changing too.
The Swedish pre-school curriculum is focusing on playing and developing social skills rather than education and an equality development plan for boys and girls to be equally treated is central to the curriculum. Childcare workers are trained to break down unfair patterns, for example by preventing boys from taking all the attention and encouraging girls to participate more.
Much time is spent doing outside activities, regardless of bad weather.
That men in Ireland are significantly under-represented in the childcare sector is not strange when they are not given the same opportunities as women to take part in the rearing of their own children. Men who enter childcare often face suspicion.
Society is not just going to change itself. The key thing is really to advocate fathers’ right to paternity leave. Fathers would have a stronger bond with their children, share more responsibility in the home, and women could go back to their jobs faster.
In time, we will see more men involved in childcare.