UN Women's latest publication "Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices of Institutional Actors on Paternity Leave and the Role of Men in Childcare in the MENA Region" was released during an event in Jordan's Amman on 25 September.
Aiming to enhance public awareness of this critical issue, this regional study has gathered insights from 1,154 decision-makers across five Arab countries regarding men's involvement in childcare and paternity leave.
The research involved an online survey that was completed by decision-makers and influencers in Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine.
Contrary to common belief, the research conducted by UN Women demonstrated that decision-makers in the Arab region overwhelmingly support paternal leave and men's participation in childcare.
The study provided practical recommendations to facilitate legal and policy changes that promote men's involvement in childcare.
Some of the recommendations included raising public awareness about the benefits of men's involvement in childcare, expanding childcare services and family-friendly policies in the workplace, and advocating for longer paternity leave through legal reforms.
The report also highlighted that, despite persistent traditional gender stereotypes and discriminatory social norms, there is a growing recognition in the Arab world that caregiving practices and parenting responsibilities are crucial for achieving gender equality and women's empowerment.
Rapid social, economic, and political changes have contributed to shifting discourses around childcare, including economic pressures on families, the transition from extended to nuclear families, the impact of urbanization, declining fertility rates, improved gender equality in the workplace and education, and increased access to modern technologies and social media.
Consequently, families, especially in urban settings, are increasingly relying on non-family caregivers for childcare. This trend applies to young married couples, divorced or separated women, widows, and working married couples with children.
During a press conference held at the launch event, the report revealed that maternity leave in the region ranges from 50 to 120 days, while paternity leave is often nonexistent, except for a 15-day period in Morocco.
The most common duration of paternity leave is only three days.
The report also highlighted the low percentage of male actors assuming primary responsibility for childcare, ranging from zero percent in Lebanon to one to six percent in other countries.
Additionally, the majority of male respondents identified women as the primary caregivers for children, indicating the prevalence of gendered norms in the region.
When asked about the benefits of paternal involvement in unpaid childcare for society, panel representatives emphasized that increased male participation can lead to improved spousal relationships, reduced domestic violence, enhanced mental health for all family members, and the promotion of gender-equitable behaviours and attitudes, which can have a positive impact on future generations.
The positive findings from this report, which focuses on decision-makers, echoed the results of UN Women's previous research conducted from 2017 to 2022, indicating that a majority of men in the Arab region desire to spend more time with their children.
The new report provides promising data on how men's involvement in childcare can be supported and how it can be mutually beneficial for men, women, families, societies, and economies in the MENA region and beyond.
Susanne Mikhail Eldhagen, regional director of UN Women for the Arab States, stated that the study demonstrated that 86 percent of decision-makers in the five Arab states support extending the duration of paternity leave, which aligns with recent studies by UN Women, indicating that the majority of men in the region desire more time with their children.
“By implementing the study's recommendations, the region can enable men to spend more time with their children, thereby facilitating women's participation in the paid labour force, increasing family income, and enhancing overall well-being,” she concluded.