Paternity leave. 20 years later, France is still lagging behind
It is only since 2002 that fathers have the legal right to spend more than three days with their newborns, and since 2021 that they have twenty-eight days. Half-hearted progress, which appears to be the hiding place of a France that is dragging its feet on gender equality. “France is chilly”, deplores the sociologist at the CNRS Christine Castelain Meunier. While nine months of “parental leave” are planned in Iceland and Spanish fathers have sixteen weeks of paid leave, French law seems to be lagging behind.
Long demanded by feminist activists, the extension of paternity leave by the 2021 Social Security financing law is considered derisory by the PAF (collective for feminist parenting).
The involvement of fathers in the education of children is part of a political will to rebalance family tasks and to promote professional equality between women and men. For the legislator, the aim of extending paternity leave was to strengthen fathers in their educational responsibility with regard to their children, by investing early in them.
It is clear that the twenty-eight days provided for by law are not up to these challenges: the 2020 report on the “first thousand days” of the child recommended a duration of nine weeks. In addition, only 14% of women are housewives today, ie 10 million less than in 1957 – but their salary remains 22% lower on average than that of men, according to the latest INSEE report.
Absences stigmatized by employers
« Real equality must therefore go through a sharing of the risk of taking birth leave during employment, which disadvantages young women in hiring », underlines Marie-Nadine Prager, president of the PAF, which campaigns for a paternity leave of the same duration as the maternity leave, of sixteen weeks. Especially since nurseries are on the edge of the abyss and the question of childcare rests with the parents. “And there is no reason for the woman to find herself alone to take on the education of the child”, remarks the activist. With the twenty-eight days of paid leave, young fathers remain unsatisfied. “They really seek to get involved alongside the child”defends Christine Castelain Meunier.
They are also few to ask for parental leave. Only 1% of fathers opt for this stop, allowing the child to be accompanied until he is 3 years old, indicates the French Observatory of Economic Conditions (OFCE). Far from the target of 25%, set in 2015 in the law on real equality between women and men. One of the reasons for the non-use of full-time parental leave is its low level of compensation: 399 euros per month. But this does not explain everything. “We have long excluded men from early childhood by suing them for incompetence”, notes the sociologist. And, in fact, men who take time off work to take care of their children are still largely stigmatized by their employers, and even those close to them.