Why Has Nigeria Rejected Paternity Leave?

Nigerian lawmakers have rejected legislation for paternity leave / Wayne Djokoto/Nappy.co
Nigerian lawmakers have rejected legislation for paternity leave / Wayne Djokoto/Nappy.co

For a change, it’s Nigerian men at the receiving end of outlandish deliberations by our nation’s lawmakers. We, women, are usually the victims.

In 2016 for example, Nigeria attracted global head-shaking when its parliament refused to pass a gender equality bill.

Among other rights, that legislation sought to protect Nigerian women from violence, and allow widows to inherit their husband’s property.

Then a few months ago as International Women’s Day was marked in parliament, Muhammed Kazaure – a lawmaker from northern Nigeria – cautioned his colleagues against handing over “too much power” to women.

“They will overthrow the men. They will mess up,” Mr Kazaure said.

“We will marry them. They will serve under us,” he vowed.

Nigeria has one of the world’s worst records when it comes to women participating in politics, with only 27 out of 469 legislative seats held by women.

An attempt to give Nigerian women equal inheritance rights failed | FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR
An attempt to give Nigerian women equal inheritance rights failed | FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR

The same parliament that has provided all this disturbing, viral comedy last month rejected a bill which would have granted optional paternity leave to all married male employees in private and public service.

Only a few states in Nigeria, such as Lagos in the south-west, allow men a few days off after their wives give birth.

‘Trying periods’

Last year, Access Bank made headlines for being the first financial institution in Nigeria to grant staff paternity leave – a week of fully paid time off work.

In contrast, Nigerian labour laws entitle women across all sectors to 12 weeks of fully paid maternity leave.

“The constitution stipulates that there should not be any discrimination based on sex,” said Edward Pwajok, the lawmaker who sponsored the paternity leave bill.

“We do know that some men also go through trying periods when women put to birth,” he told the chamber, before listing the benefits of having fathers and mothers at home during their baby’s first days.

At the end of his speech, Mr Pwajok’s colleagues did not point out the severe irony of his using “discrimination based on sex” as a means of persuading the same lawmakers who had turned down the gender equality bill.

Nevertheless, his motion was defeated with a resounding voice vote.

One or two states offer fathers some paid paternity leave - while all new mothers are entitled to 12 weeks | Shanice McKenzie/Nappy.co
One or two states offer fathers some paid paternity leave – while all new mothers are entitled to 12 weeks | Shanice McKenzie/Nappy.co

The legislators’ main reasons for denying the men paternity leave were similar to those used to deny women various rights: culture and tradition.

For example, they argued, why should a man be home on leave when he is expected to be out hunting and gathering to feed his wife and infant?

Also, in a country where men are allowed to marry as many women as are willing to have them, how many days would a polygamous man end up working if a different wife had a baby each month?

“The woman carried the child for nine months,” added Kingsley Chanda, a lawmaker from the Niger Delta region. “The leave is for the woman, not the man.”

Lord of the manor

There has been no furore over the denial of paternity leave to Nigerian men – unlike on previous occasions, when lawmakers’ decisions on gender rights sparked global outcry and media storms.

The majority of Nigerians, men and women alike, have reacted to Mr Pwajok’s proposed bill with mirth and scorn.

“Maternity leave for men?,” queried a bewildered male panellist on a TV news show. “Does that make sense?”

“If that is what his constituents voted him for, they should recall him,” another male panellist said. “The timing is wrong. The challenges facing our nation are far, far, far beyond this.”

 

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