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Sun. June 23, 2024
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Paid Paternity Leave is Necessary to Close the Gender Wage Gap
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When discussing women’s rights, one would think not to discuss the rights of men. However, paternity leave is necessary in order to protect the working rights of women, and specifically to alleviate the wage gap. In order to grant women full rights within the workplace of “equal pay for equal work” enshrined in international law, paternity leave must be added to international human rights covenants such as CEDAW.

When comparing countries that have paid paternity leave, such as Finland, Sweden, Iceland, and Norway, to countries that don’t; for example, the United States, the difference in the wage gap speaks for itself. According to the World Economic Forum's 2023 Global Gender Gap Report, the four countries previously mentioned are in the top five countries globally to have closed the gender parity gap to at least 80%, with Iceland at the top with 91.2%. A common theme amongst the four? They all have generous parental leave policies for men, not just women.

Comparatively, the U.S. ranks 43rd globally on gender parity, with decreasing the wage gap at 74.8%. It is important to note how this far-removed number painfully manifests in the everyday lives of mothers in the workforce. Michelle J. Budig, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, found that in the U.S, the smallest wage gap is present between childless men and women. Once kids enter the equation, women’s salaries decrease 4% per child. But it doesn't just stop there. Budig’s study also found that not only are women being penalized by maternity leave, but men are also benefiting from their female counterparts' demise. The average man gets a wage increase of 6% when he becomes a father. In this sense, when there is only a paid maternity leave, or a more generous maternity leave offered than a paternity leave, the gap not only widens because of the hit to women’s wages, but also from the advantage to the men’s wage, widening the gap from both ends.

As an aside, paid maternity leave is also not offered throughout the entirety of the United States. However, individual states have enshrined paid maternity leave into law. Eleven states guarantee a paid maternity leave, while only six guarantee paid paternity leave. Because of societal as well as international norms set up by international human rights laws, maternity leave is prioritized more within the U.S. To fix this ideology, international law must first be amended to include paternity leave.

One way to ameliorate the gender wage gap globally would be to enshrine the right to a paid or comparable paternity leave into international law, a topic international human rights treaties are currently lacking. This would ensure that many of the states that are a party to these declarations would have to ensure a paid paternity leave. Although the U.S. hasn't ratified many of these treaties, they are a signatory, and would have to at least consider the recommendations. Regardless, many countries that are a party to CEDAW still don’t have a paid paternity leave, which would aid in decreasing the wage gap globally.

Currently, international human rights are unknowingly adding to the global gender wage gap. Article 4(2) of CEDAW points to the issue of maternity and writes that “maternity shall not be considered discriminatory.” It further states in Article 11(2)(b) that all states that are a party to the covenant must have a maternity leave with pay or comparable social benefits. Although this seems like a win for women’s rights, these two articles are inherently contradictory. As seen by the previous example of the U.S., when countries only offer fair maternity leave, it leads to the widening of the gender wage gap. Thus, making only having compensated maternity leave inherently discriminatory against women.

The right under Article 23 of the UDHR of “equal pay for equal work” couples with the right to maternity leave in CEDAW and for special protections for mothers under Article 10(2) of the ICESCR to ensure that mothers will be getting paid less. Although not the intention of these rights, if it is just women taking this time off of work, then technically there is an unequal work time if fathers aren't expected or can’t even manage to take the same time off.

 Article 5(b) of CEDAW goes on to say that both men and women share the responsibility of the upbringing and raising of their children. However, this is also contradictory if CEDAW only protects maternity leave. If women and men aren’t both afforded the same compensation for parental leave, and only maternity leave is protected under international law, then Article 5(b) is not viable. Thus, only women have the ability to be able to stay home and raise the child in the weeks surrounding childbirth. This then places the responsibility of childcare solely on women within those weeks if their male counterparts aren’t granted the same opportunity.

In order for CEDAW to truly protect the rights of women, it must be ratified to include paternity leave in addition to maternity leave. Where it stands it is entirely contradictory within its own articles, as well as international human rights contained in UDHR and ICESCR. Paternity leave is necessary in order to achieve gender parity, as proven by Iceland’s paid paternity law that has currently caused the country to have closed the wage gap most significantly globally.

Gabrielle Kalayjian is a current sophomore at American University studying International Service with a specialization in U.S. Foreign Policy.

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