Foto: Desiree Hoving

Follow the North

When it comes to gender equality, Scandinavians appear to be ahead of the game. What is their secret?

They’re known as ‘latte dads’ – young, hipster-bearded fathers who meet up for coffee with their babies in tow. You mostly see them in Sweden. Is it because those who come from Viking stock have a greater appreciation for milky coffee? Perhaps not. They do, however, live in a country where men and women are largely treated as equals. “The only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve equality in the home. Getting fathers to share the parental leave is an essential part of that,” Sweden’s deputy Prime Minister Bengt Westerberg recently stated in The New York Times.

“Over the last few years, Swedish men have actively been encouraged to go on parental leave as soon as their babies are born,” explains Rense Nieuwenhuis, researcher at the Swedish Institute for Social Research. He’s referring to a policy introduced by the Swedish government in 1995, which initially afforded new fathers one month of parental leave at 80% of their salary. Even though fathers had been entitled to parental leave since 1974, there were no consequences if they chose not to use it. Any remaining days would simply be carried over to the mother. Until a new measure was put in place completely cancelling any days unused by dads. A revolution ensued. Whereas before Swedish fathers on parental leave had to endure the nickname ‘velvet dads’, all of a sudden hanging out with your newborn became the thing to do.

In nations like the US, Switzerland and China, fathers don’t get any parental leave at all. And then there are countries like Korea and Japan, where men can get as much as 52 weeks of paid leave to cuddle with their mini-me to their heart’s content. Nevertheless, only 2% of Korean and Japanese fathers actually choose to do so. This is because employers often consider these fathers ‘unprofessional’, according to a recent story in the Korea Times. In other words, gender equality policies are only as effective as a culture is progressive.

This story was published in Holland Herald, march 2019. Read the whole story here.