What are the numbers not telling us? Going beyond statistics in promoting men’s caregiving in Portugal

By Sofia José Santos
This article was originally published by Promundo.

A man puts his arm around his daughter's shoulder in Portugal.In terms of overall progress toward gender equality, Portugal is on par with many other European Union (EU) countries, and it has one of the EU’s most progressive paternity leave policies in terms of both length and compensation.

Since 2009, Portuguese fathers have been entitled to 20 working days of paid paternity leave – and it’s mandatory for them to take at least 10. For the full 20 days, paternity leave is compensated at 100% of an individual’s most recent salary. Subsequently, a couple can enjoy an additional, “bonus” month of paid leave (compensated at 83% of each parent’s most recent salary) if it is shared and used simultaneously by both parents. Parents with children aged 12 and younger are additionally entitled to work flexible hours, which further supports fathers in their role as active caregivers.

Portugal is, at the same time, one of the countries most affected by the ongoing European economic and financial crisis, particularly after the government began implementing spending cuts and tax increases to comply with the troika financial rescue package agreed to in May 2011. Since then, the legislation that grants paternity leave in Portugal has been increasingly threatened; many labor rights – such as paternity leave – have already been informally weakened due to workers’ fears of being fired or demoted and to the increasing financial stress felt by many Portuguese families.

Surprisingly, however, the number of fathers who take non-compulsory paternity leave has increased consistently in Portugal since 2005, experiencing only a slight drop in 2013. For every 100 mothers who took maternity leave, 43 fathers took non-compulsory paternity leave in Portugal in 2005; in 2011 (the year the European troika’s structural adjustment program began), for every 100 mothers who took maternity leave, 60 fathers took non-compulsory paternity leave. In 2013, this number increased to 63, after having reached 64 in 2012.

But what are the numbers not showing us?

The numbers suggest, therefore, a positive trend overall in men’s use of paternity leave in Portugal. There are, however, several important aspects that these figures fail to show. What these numbers don’t show us is the pressure fathers face from co-workers and employers not to take paternity leave, nor do they show us the financial stress that directly influences the expectations and realities of being a father in present-day Portugal. These numbers don’t explore the fact that the idea of more engaged fatherhood still coexists with traditional roles assigned to men, despite the decline of patriarchal notions of family and gender in Portuguese society. These numbers don’t include Portugal’s unemployed or precarious workers, which represent a large portion of the population.

These numbers also don’t show us that the health sector in Portugal, despite progressive efforts toward gender equality in parenthood, still dismisses fathers’ involvement in caregiving as less important than mothers’. Many fathers-to-be still testify, for example, that their involvement as equal parents isn’t taken into consideration when they attend pre-natal appointments with their partners.

Engaging fathers through research and action

Recognizing the importance of going beyond the numbers, Promundo-Europe has joined the global MenCare campaign by launching the Portuguese fatherhood campaign Eu sou pai with other local partners, and it is currently undertaking research in order to understand the evolution and state of men’s caregiving in Portugal. The campaign seeks to explore the ways in which parental leave and the role of fathers as caregivers can be affected by the context of financial and economic stress caused by the recent austerity measures in the country. The MenCare campaign in Portugal targets three specific sectors and audiences:

  1. Communities: The campaign seeks to raise public awareness about the importance of engaging men in caregiving through community media campaigns.
  2. Health, education, and social services professionals: The campaign trains professional groups within the education, social services, and health sectors, equipping them to conduct workshops and raise awareness among their beneficiaries on gender equality and on the need to engage men in caregiving.
  3. Employers: The campaign targets both public and private employers with messages about the benefits of paternity leave for their workers and for their companies and institutions.

This stimulating work has already started and there are plenty of challenges ahead! Visit www.men-care.org and www.eusoupai.pt to learn more.