PARENTING is still considered women's work but increasing numbers of men play an active role in raising their children. It's important to highlight the gender barriers men face as parents and that's what I do with my blog.
Having launched it just three months ago, it was an honour to be asked to host a Q&A session with Jo Swinson, the Employment Relations Minister. I felt rather excited that my blog and the issues it raises were being read by government ministers and civil servants.
The Q&A itself focused on the Children and Families Bill and plans to introduce a system of shared parental leave following the birth of a child. Assuming the legislation is passed, a couple will have the legal right to share one year's parental leave from 2015. Each partner could do six months, the mother take three months the man nine months and so on.
The bill will also, for the first time, give men a legal right to attend two ante-natal appointments (i.e. the 12 and 20-week baby scans) and it will be easier to ask an employer for flexible working. The aim is ultimately to make the workforce more flexible and family friendly.
It's a big step in the right direction and I broadly welcome the proposals. The interesting thing is that maternity and paternity pay will remain unchanged. The minister was forthright about this; the economic climate dictates it can't be increased at this time.
This means men will continue to receive just two weeks statutory paternity pay compared to the mothers' 39 weeks. That said, a system of "parental pay" will be introduced for the parent that looks after the children. Families and fathers should benefit from this, although we'll have to see how much parental pay turns out to be.
It's great to see the Government taking action that helps families and in particular fathers, who will have the option to become more involved with their children in the early days. It was also very refreshing to see a government minister engaging directly with the electorate using social media.
I suspect it will take a while for the benefits of this legislation to be truly appreciated. The beauty is that it acknowledges a general trend in society; men want to look after the children and are quite capable of doing so.
A full transcript of the Q&A can be found online here