Stay-at-home Swedish dads can inspire uninvolved Chinese fathers
Stay-at-home dads might not be a common sight in China, but for Swedish families, where many fathers take parental leave and are seen on the streets pushing strollers, it is parenting as usual.
The Consulate General of Sweden in Shanghai will launch a new photography exhibition, Swedish
Dads, in order to provoke Chinese parents into giving a second thought to their traditional roles in society.
Taken by photographer Johan Bävman, a new father himself, the photos feature several Swedish fathers who chose to stay at home with their child for at least six months after being born.
With this project, Bävman aimed to find out why these men opted to put their careers on hold, how their family structures and relationships changed, and their expectations prior to taking leave.
In 1974, Sweden became the first country in the world to replace maternity leave with parental leave. With institutional support from the government, both parents became entitled to 480 days of paid leave, including 90 days reserved exclusively for fathers.
While on parental leave, Swedish parents can receive an allowance of nearly 80 percent of their salary for 390 days with the remaining 90 days paid at a flat rate.
Forty years later, many Swedish fathers feel “embarrassed” if they do not take parental leave after having a baby, said Lisette Lindahl, the Consul General of Sweden in Shanghai.
Lindahl believes the biggest change the policy has brought to Swedish society is that it has secured women’s place in the nation’s workforce, allowing more women to pursue a career. It has also reshaped the next generation’s view of gender while allowing fathers to better bond with their children.
“In Sweden we believe women and men have the same opportunities, rights and obligations in all walks of life,” said Lindahl. “We believe whatever men can do women can do as well and vice versa.”
To compel more Chinese fathers to become engaged in child rearing, the Consulate General of Sweden in Shanghai will also organize a photography contest featuring Chinese dads with their children, which comes just in time for the current public debate about the vanishing role of fathers in China.
In 2015, China amended its Law on Population and Family Planning to allow couples two children. A new parental leave regulation in Shanghai allows women who give birth to their second child to take 128 days maternity leave and has extended paternity leave from three to 10 days.
But extended leave still hasn’t kept Chinese fathers willingly at home to raise their own kids. China has a long tradition of expecting women to take full responsibility in child rearing. Even with the new second children policy, over 53 percent of women said they are not yet willing to give birth to a second child, according to a report released by All China Women’s Federation.
Among their biggest concerns are the tremendous efforts to take care of children under three, which inhibits career development. But if more fathers took over such responsibilities, experts believe it will be mutually beneficial to both mothers and children.
“Take the opportunity, stay as much as you can with your children, because it is worth it,” said Lindahl as a message to Chinese fathers.
Selected works from the photography contest will be co-exhibited during the Swedish National Day reception held by the consulate and toured at many public spaces in Shanghai. Participants can submit their work from March 8 to April 30 and follow the consulate’s WeChat account for more information.
Murat Saglamoglu holds his baby.