Paternity leave is a new reality in Nigeria | Here are the benefits if done right

After years of clamour by advocates for Nigeria to avail new fathers of paid paternity leave, it appears some headway has been made. The Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Wednesday, September 29, 2021, approved two weeks of paid paternity leave after it reviewed its Public Service Rules (PSR,) for the first time since 2008.

It is important to remember even as the move by the FEC is applauded that Nigeria’s Labour Act does not recognise paternity leave and makes no provision for such. The 14 days leave approved by the FEC only applies to men in the Federal civil service. Only 2 states in Nigeria have a paternity leave policy – Lagos and Enugu with 2 and 3 weeks respectively.

While cultural attitude remains an impediment to paternity leave becoming more widely accepted, experts believe that the more people understand the short and long-term benefits of it the more commonplace it will become.

A Mackinsey and Company survey found that where the work culture encourages taking leave many who took the leave felt their act could inspires others to do the same.

Benefits of paternity leave

There is a wealth of research and testimonies about the benefits of paternity leave to fathers, their spouses as well as the child – some lasting long-lasting enough to manifest well into the future in the child’s performance in school.

We highlight some below, contextualizing where necessary, to fit our Nigerian lived reality.

  • Improved confidence in child care:

A common trope used to exempt men from childcare responsibility across Nigeria is that they are bad at it. While this may be true generally speaking because while girls are trained from a very young age to have a solid grasp of childcare contrary to their male peers, research now show that men can learn to be better at it with paternity leave.

The trick is to ensure they utilise the paternity leave to actually take part in child care.

  • Improved relationship for parents:

From simple exhaustion to the necessary healing one requires after putting to bed, to post-partum depression, childbirth is very challenging for women. However much help a woman can get in this period is highly appreciated.

People who have taken paternity leave report an improved relationship as a couple as each party comes to appreciate the sacrifice the other is making for the benefit of the family.

  • Better school performance for the kid later in life:

Evidence shows your child could be smarter later in life if you take paternity leave and actually utilise it to be part of the child’s formative experiences.

A University of Oslo research found kids whose fathers took time off showed improved performance at school, and an OECD report has shown that kids have both improved cognitive scores and mental health outcomes as they grow older.

  • Increased well-being for mothers

Research shows that when caring for a baby, support from the father can increase the mother’s well-being. Additionally, the mom is less likely to experience depression after childbirth.

A Nigerian father documented in this 2018 Punch piece recounted how post-partum depression would have cost the life of his wife and their newborn had he not taken time off to care for both.

“She told me she had the urge to pick a knife and stab her to death. Then l became scared,” he was documented as saying, “It was after a visit to the hospital that I got to understand that women suffer this condition due to stress after childbirth. That was when I realised that paternity leave is important.”

  • Happier fathers:

A MenCare State of the World’s Fathers report shows that men are generally happier and experience fewer health problems (both mental and physical) when caring for young children. The science doesn’t lie.

There are ore benefits not covered here but the gist is that paternity leave isn’t just beneficial to men but to the whole family. Hopefully, more states begin to take it seriously.

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