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Nordic men want equal opportunities

| Text: Henrik Brun

It's a myth that Swedish and Norwegian men only take paternity leave so they can go deer hunting. Research shows that men have the same reasons as women, according to the Nordic men's conference in Copenhagen.

Nordic men not only can but also want to look after their children. That's why they choose to take paternity leave, when the circumstances, law and traditions permit it. But the terms under which men can take paternity leave in the Nordic countries tend to be discouraging, not least because of a whole range of myths prevalent in public opinion and among politicians and bureaucrats.

This was one of the main conclusions reached when hundreds of Nordic men – politicians, employers, employees and researchers – gathered for a conference in the Royal Library in Copenhagen.

"For example, people say that the only reason why Swedish and Norwegian men take paternity leave is so that they can have time off to go deer hunting," explains Eivind Olsvik from the Oslo-based Nordic Institute for Women and Gender Research (NIKK) which organised the conference entitled 'Men can – work and equal opportunities'.

"The reality is that men have the same reasons for taking paternity leave as women – that they would like to look after their children. All research conducted so far in the Nordic countries points to this fact. But there is clearly a need for more research and documentation to dispel these myths," continues Eivind Olsvik.

The fact that men's freedom of choice is inhibited by precisely these myths and prejudices regarding the way families with children traditionally organise their roles is apparent in the way a man negotiates with his employer and on the home front.

"When the issue is discussed at home, the tendency is that the woman opts to go on leave. The only way to bring about a real change is to introduce a mild form of compulsion into the legislation," considers Eivind Olsvik.

The leading country in this respect is Iceland, whose Fisheries Minister, Arni M. Mathiesen, gave a rousing speech at the conference. Iceland's legislation enables the parents’ entitlement of nine months' leave to be organised such that both the woman and the man take three months each and then share the remaining three months.

"More than 90% of Icelandic fathers take advantage of this opportunity. They say they see it as a fantastic opportunity to be with their children," explains Eivind Olsvik.

The conference agreed that there was a need for more research to reinforce the argument for better opportunities for Nordic men.

"There needs to be a change in attitude at work and at home, as both these institutions are extremely structured. Especially in the Nordic countries, where we usually pride ourselves on how far we've come on the equal opportunities front," concludes Eivind Olsvik.

 

 

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