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(Un)Equal Parents? Combining family and work in Poland

Childcare and housework are still almost exlusively taken on by women in Poland. Contrary to popular belief, the problem is very deep-rooted in Polish society. Four factors are the main reasons for this.

Polish statistics are alarming. Childcare and housework are reported to be performed almost exclusively by women. It is usually at the expense of their careers. Despite the introduction of strategies designed to encourage men to become more involved, they only engage occasionally in childcare and household responsibilities, according to the latest analysis by the Polish Ombudsman.
The Office of the Ombudsman Adam Bodnar published analysis and recommendations on “Combining family and professional roles. Equal treatment of parents in the labour market”. The report, based on a survey with both employers and working parents, highlights a continuous tendency not to employ women because of their (potential) motherhood or to fire employees, particularly women, returning to work after taking a parental leave. This is directly related to the fact that the responsibility for childcare and housework falls mainly upon women.

Father and baby: In Poland, children are mostly cared for by women

Father and baby: In Poland, children are mostly cared for by women

From an economical point of view this tendency is not surprising, especially when considering the case of small businesses. Employers need to devote extra time to organise work and possibly hire a substitute who needs to be property trained. Forcing employers would be forced to bear these additional costs. However, it is easy to note that if childcare was divided equally between parents, the potential financial risks of employing young women would be much smaller. This would significantly improve the situation of young Polish women in the labour market. Furthermore, greater involvement by fathers in childcare and housework would have a positive impact on family relationships which is of course another huge advantage. Why then does the situation remain unchanged?

Contrary to popular belief, this problem is very deep-rooted and its causes are very complex. The main factors hindering the use of parenting leaves by working fathers are as follows:

1. Existing stereotypes regarding the role of a father
The report indicates that the traditional approach to gender roles in the family, in which the mother is primarily responsible for childcare, has a strong influence on the matter. Some fathers participating in the study commented on the stereotypical perception of the role of men by employers, which may hinder the fulfilment of care responsibilities by fathers. Ingrained stereotypes were also mentioned by mothers. They pointed out that many people still believe that it is the woman’s duty to take care of the child and the father is mainly responsible for earning money to maintain the family. Unfortunately, attempts to eradicate those social beliefs are reported to be mostly ineffective.

2. Lack of policies promoting and supporting fathers in making use of parental leaves
The employers surveyed declared that they don’t mind fathers taking longer parental leave – they are aware that according to the law fathers are entitled to it. Nevertheless, there is a lack of systematically implemented strategies to support working fathers and to promote the use of male parental leave.

3. Profitability
Statistically, men earn more than women for the same work (or work of equal value). Fathers who take parental leave could simply worsen the financial situation of the family. According to the Ombudsman, the government must increase its efforts to effectively implement the principle of equal pay and to eliminate the gender pay gap so that parents can make informed decisions about the childcare, which would not be based only on their financial situation.

4. Fear of unemployment or ruining professional career
The fear of the negative impact of parenthood on career concerns both women and men. However, the Ombudsman states that the provision of child care facilities or the possibility of using flexible forms of employment can prove to be an effective remedy limiting the impact of parenthood on professional career.

The analysis discussed lists several other factors preventing working fathers from exercising their right to parental leave, such as the lack of in-depth knowledge as to fathers rights in this regard .

It is noteworthy that the survey shows a growing interest in two-week ‘father’s leave’. It is a special leave granted to fathers only. This increased interest may result from greater awareness of the father’s role in a child’s life and greater social acceptance for taking such a step. Nevertheless, among the respondents the opinion was expressed that fathers often treat those two weeks of ‘father’s leave’ simply as additional vacation. Longer parental leave is rarely taken by fathers.

Lastly, all future parents in Poland should keep in mind that the year 2016 saw the introduction of significant changes regarding different kinds of parental leave in Poland. Among other things, ‘additional maternity leave’ has been removed and also the period within fathers can use the two-weeks ‘father’s leave’ has been extended until the child reaches two years old (not one year as before).

The Ombudsman’s analysis is available online (unfortunately, only in Polish; however the website itself has an English version).

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