Takeaways from #MeToo On Campus

  • March 29th, 2019
  • Blog

We were delighted to welcome so many of you to our conference with Westminster Briefing ‘#MeToo on Campus: Ending Sexual Misconduct in UK Universities’. Our panels provided some fascinating dialogues, and opportunity to reflect on responses to into institutional responses to the movement,  as well as shared best practice procedures and ways to support survivors in universities. To paraphrase GenPol CEO Lilia Giugni’s opening words:”Beyond critically reviewing what has been done so far on this issue” we came together to identify how initiatives can be incorporated into policy for on sexual misconduct on campus.”

Our excellent Comms Team took to twitter to document the day, where you can find some of the main takeaways from our superb array of speakers. Broadly speaking, the conference pointed towards a pressing need to address the normalisation of sexual violence in university culture, as well as providing better provisions to support and aid survivors within the system. As Professor Janice Kay, Provost and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Exeter put to the audience in her opening panel: ‘We live in a society in which sexual harassment against women is normalised systematic issue. The focus of this work had to be on pushing back on harassment against women, changing social norms. We must have public spaces which are safe.” As Janice pointed out, universities are forgetting where students have come from which is a structured secondary school system. clearer guidelines and disciplinary procedures are needed to help support this transition, and to make it easier and clearer for students to disclose.

However, Dr Nina Burrows rightly highlighted that part of reforming this culture of disclosure requires the creation of better systems for survivors, as ‘there are not enough trauma experts to help one-on-one the number of people who have been through [sexual violence]’. The creation of what speakers largely referred to as a ‘culture of sexual respect’ must be mindful (and inclusive) of a range of voice and perspectives, and seek to empower and inform all students who come through universities. Interventions by University UK, Good Lad InitiativeHollaback! among others gave us some vital food for thought to consider innovative ways in which to do this.

Ultimately, although conversations surrounding sexual violence can (and should) be infuriating and depressing, an excellent day of exchanges, contributions and showcasing best practices left us hopeful and optimistic for all of the vital reforms that are underway. We are excited to see what new findings will emerge at our next event ‘MeToo on Campus, Manchester: Next Steps for Universities’ on May 22nd.  We would love to see as many of you there as possible, so don’t forget to register!

The GenPol Team

How Violence Disempowers Women: Spotlight on Mexico City

  • March 14th, 2019
  • Blog

At present, there are about 45 civil wars going on across the globe. 10 out of these 45-armed conflicts alone have resulted in over 1,000 fatalities. Whilst these figures might not be entirely surprising, we rarely stop to think about how violent conflict can act as an impediment to gender equality. Nor do we think about its impact on female labour force participation through fear, or the lack of public transportation usage due to neighbourhood distrust. The Sustainable Development Goal 5 have identified the need to ‘enhance women’s ability to participate in intra-household decision-making processes’ as one of the necessary factors needed to achieve gender equality by 2030. In order to do this, I suggest we need to look closer in to the impact of precarious living conditions on female decision-making power.

Gender equality begins at a micro-level of society: in the home. The ability to participate in intra-household decision-making empowers women by increasing their standing and significance within the family. It also provides them with a medium for expression in issues that affect their lives. Drawing on the example of the ongoing Mexican Drug War, I examine the ways in which such a socially distorted environment impacts home and day to day life, and how that can influence the relative decision-making power of a woman.

The Mexican Drug War began in December 2006 when the newly inaugurated President, Felipe Calderón initiated the fight against drug cartels. Since 2007, drug-related violence has escalated dramatically, claiming over 80,000 lives to date as a result of the aggressive clashes between the Mexican government and drug trafficking syndicates. According to a 2014/2015 national survey on victimization and perception of public security, more than half of the over 18 population considered insecurity and crime to be the most pressing issue at the state-level. The increasing number of homicides and other drug-related crimes has therefore undoubtedly hampered public safety, and the experience of women in both public and private space.

In my research, I draw on longitudinal data from the Mexican Family Life Survey (MxFLS) which interviewed more than 35,000 individuals in over 8,000 households across Mexico. Using information provided in the household decision-making questionnaires, I constructed a relative decision-making power index (defined as the absolute number of decisions a woman made in her household, minus the absolute number of decisions her husband made). A negative index consequently indicates lower bargaining power compared to her husband, and a positive index signifies higher relative decision-making power. To gain a more specific overview of the types of goods and services that couples bargain over within a household, I further divided decision-making questionnaires into four different categories: a woman’s private goods and services, her husband’s private goods and services, goods related to household expenditures and her children’s goods and services like health, education and food.

The results from my analyses revealed that the effect of homicides on a woman’s relative decision-making power was salient for only one particular type of good –  expenditures on children’s goods and services. This finding is nonetheless unsurprising since women have been documented to have a greater preference in allocating larger income shares or resources to their children compared to men. Any negative shock to women’s incomes can be manifested by a decrease in their children’s expenditures considering the sensitivity of their bargaining power over this specific category of goods and services.

To provide additional insight into the possible mechanisms that govern the relationship between violence and a woman’s decision-making power, I also examined the impact of homicide rates on fear, neighborhood distrust, the modification of public transportation routes and the probability of employment. A case in point would be that a woman may limit her labor market participation due to the fear of being exposed to violent surroundings, or, she may have less social capital as a result of higher levels of distrust which could hinder employment prospects. Likewise, the dearth of security on public transportation routes compels women to commute on alternative paths to work that may take much longer, reducing the time they are able to dedicate to income-generating activities. Since income is typically used as measure for bargaining power, a reduction in wage earnings subsequently weakens the power a woman has to partake in intra-household decision-making processes.

My study underscores the importance of providing women with greater protection during times of susceptibility in order to safeguard their autonomy in making independent decisions that impact them and their children’s well-being. It is imperative for policy-makers to consider the possible disproportionate effects of civil wars on women when formulating policies that strive to achieve greater gender equality. In Mexico City for example, women-only train carriages and buses are offered on metro lines, and the city of Puebla has also introduced ‘pink taxis’ operated by female taxi drivers that take on only female passengers. While efforts to implement systems that offer women greater protection cannot be discounted, more has to be done in streamlining and normalizing such gender-specific structures across the country as the provision of such services still remains woefully inadequate.

Audrey Au Yong Lyn

PhD Candidate
Department of Economics
University of Munich

Happy International Women’s Day!

  • March 8th, 2019
  • Blog

Happy International Women’s Day from all of us at GenPol!

As you know, we are committed to using education as a tool to tackled sexual violence 365 days a year. Last year we’ve published the policy paper Can education stop abuse?, a comprehensive piece of work mapping sexual education policies in the European Union and offering recommendations on how to use them to prevent violence. In September 2018  we released the report Consent training and sexual violence prevention in UK universities, which focuses on the British Universities sexual abuse problem and explores the effectivness of consent training to address the problem.

This International Women’s Day we’re doing things a bit differently. We are delighted to share a video we have put together about the harmful Sex Ed stories many of us learnt growing up, and the ways we can set about tackling them as adults. We strongly believe that when Sex Education is inadequate, dangerous myths about gender and sexuality are left to go unchallenged. We hope that this video encourages you to reflect on your own Sex Ed, and the things that you would like changed for future generations of feminists.

Whatever you do and wherever you are, we hope you have an inspiring International Women’s Day 2019. If you’ve not booked your place on our upcoming conference #MeToo on Campus: Ending Sexual Misconduct in UK Universities’ (which will be hosted  in conjunction with Westminster Briefing on Wednesday 20 March), don’t forget to do so! This conference is your chance to explore the next steps in embedding cultural change on campus, and creating the safe, positive learning environments that we all desperately deserve. View the full agenda here and don’t miss out by registering now. Right now, GenPol followers and partners can get a 20% discount by entering the code METOOGP19 at registration.

Here is to another year of fighting gender inequality in all of its forms, and to all of the amazing women- in this life and beyond- who have helped us along the way. We are more grateful for you than you will ever know.

In solidarity,

The GenPol Team

Why Women’s Mental Health Is A Political Issue

  • March 1st, 2019
  • Blog

The mental health of women living in poverty is a growing public health concern. In economically developing countries like India there is both a large burden of mental illness among women and an acute shortage of services and trained professionals. The majority of women suffering from mental illnesses do not receive the care they need [1]. The Movement for Global Mental Health, launched by academics and activists in 2007, has brought attention to the need to improve mental health services for women in more economically disadvantaged countries. The movement has succeeded in bringing mental health onto the global agenda and should be praised for this achievement. However, it has also been criticized for taking a narrow medical approach to women’s mental health and failing to “highlight or tackle the social conditions that create distress for women” [2].

We live in societies and communities where “health” and “mental health” are not distributed equally.  I know this all too well because I grew up in the city of Mumbai in India where close to 50% of the city lives in “slum areas” without access to clean food, water, shelter and all the basic necessities for a dignified life [3]. India is one of the countries with the highest levels of gender inequality and notorious for high rates of crime against women [4]. Women living in poverty in India report significantly more distress, and are more likely to attempt suicide than men [5]. As a social psychologist, these gender differences were striking to me. There is no obvious biological reason for women to suffer more. So I decided to explore this question sociologically as part of my Master’s studies at Cambridge in 2015. I spent six weeks interviewing women across various slum communities in Mumbai. I wanted to understand how they talk about their mental health, what the causes of their distress are, how they cope with stresses in their lives, and what they think researchers, health practitioners and policy makers can do to support them better.

Across discussions, women spoke to me about the “tension” in their lives. Women used the term with such ease that initially I thought they were being slightly flippant and using it in the same way that English speakers might talk about being “stressed” by anything and everything. I tried hard to understand the social and cultural significance of the word to them. Was it a local way of talking about mental illness? Would tension map onto what in the West might be called depression or anxiety? It finally clicked when during one of my discussions, a respondent remarked poignantly: “Ma’m, a woman’s life is tension”. I realized that the tension these women were speaking about was more than an illness. Instead, they were using the word as a metaphor for the varied and intense social challenges they face in their lives: food insecurity, extreme poverty, domestic violence, sexual abuse, lack of status and humiliationn.

To improve mental health for women in marginalized settings we need to take what they are saying seriously. We need to have more conversations around the social drivers of their distress. I believe that medical efforts alone will be limited in their impacts in these settings without parallel attempts to create structural change and supportive social contexts. Michael Marmot poignantly summarizes this in his book when he says: There is no point treating people if we send them back to the very conditions that made them sick. I hope that the global mental health community will pay greater heed to this statement.

Saloni Atal
PhD Candidate in Psychology, University of Cambridge

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4991748/

[2] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1363461512454701

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25189736

[4] http://hdr.undp.org/en/data

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21037247

How Does Violence Against Women Permeate Political Leadership?

  • February 8th, 2019
  • Blog

TW: references to rape culture, victim blaming, and sexual violence.

Violence against women (VAW) is an issue that has plagued women from time immemorial. Its roots lie in ideas of subordination: the sense of women being male property in conventionally patriarchal societies. In recent years, VAW has gained renewed attention and has emerged as a hotbed of discussion around the world. Having worked with survivors of violence before, I began my Master’s with clarity on just one point: that I would write my dissertation on the topic of VAW. It is true that we live in a world where there is increased awareness of the issue. Many women support other women in opening up about violence, whilst social media movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up address sexual violence. However, the existence of a culture of victim-blaming, shaming and toxic masculinity continues to be a threat to women.

My dissertation, titled Aiding and abetting violence against women: a comparative analysis of Modi’s India and Trump’s America, focuses on sexual gender-based violence in India and the US. It explores how the Modi and the Trump regimes, as well as the factors that contribute to the ineffective redressal of and negative social attitudes towards VAW in India and the US, continue to exacerbate VAW in both countries. I chose to compare India and the US for three reasons. Firstly, I wanted to dispel the myth that VAW is a problem unique to the developing world, bound to ‘so-called’ backward cultures and traditions. Secondly, India and the USA are two of the world’s largest economies and yet, under their current political leadership, I believe that they are deteriorating socially. Finally, both the Modi and Trump governments lean towards the political right, and embolden far-right groups that are hostile towards minority groups, immigrants and modern feminism.

One of the most common forms of violence that is prevalent is both India and the US is sexual assault, especially rape. In fact, in a survey of global experts recently conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation regarding VAW, India was named the most dangerous country for sexual violence, while the US ranked third on this list. The US was also the only Western country on the list. Leading on from this, my first chapter dives into the astonishingly similar rape culture that is prevalent in both countries. Statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in India and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the US show that cases of rape and sexual assault are under-reported or unreported in both countries. This is not necessarily surprising considering that an integral feature of rape culture is the unwarranted focus on ‘what women did’ to invite sexual violence, rather than focusing on why men rape, and how it can be prevented. Even when victims work up the courage to report violence, their experience is minimised or silenced by insensitive police forces and victim-blaming. My chapter therefore argues that rape culture contributes to sexual assault as a form of social control over women, where they internalise the violence that they have a right to be protected against.

My work is also concerned with how toxic masculinity and nationalism emboldens the far-right, which then enables the creation of an environment that condones violence. It explains how both Modi and Trump used a combination of economic incentives and far-right support to win elections in their respective countries. Modi represents himself as a masculine “protector” of women and this language of masculinity along with Hindu right-wing politics leads to VAW and a restriction of women’s rights. For example, in the name of protecting women, violent moral policing has regained legitimacy to punish women for “erring”. Furthermore, Modi tends to maintain strategic silences when it comes to rape and VAW. The Modi government pursues an aggressive neoliberal agenda but a conservative social agenda in which women need protection more than rights or entitlements, eliminating the possibility of a rights-based discourse when it comes to VAW.

While Modi-masculinity is more subtle, Trump’s macho behaviour and unabashed sexism is the epitome of toxic masculinity. He faces around 17 cases of sexual assault and continues to flippantly dismiss or deny them all. His misogynistic comments and behaviour normalise sexual harassment of women and broadcast the message that women are inferior. As in India, this language of masculinity trivialises the issue of VAW. Through his actions such as cutting state funding to organisations like Planned Parenthood, Trump continues to demonstrate the point that he sees women’s issues as unimportant. When combined with the far-right ideology that resurfaced with Trump’s election, we are seeing an increasing shift towards the brushing off sexual assault as inconsequential or fabricated. Furthermore, this has created new platforms of violence, including entire far-right hate websites dedicated to bashing and threatening women.

This research has ultimately lead me to an uncomfortable awareness of the flawed redressal of VAW in both countries. These include a lack of state-support mechanisms, lack of sensitivity training of the police force and lack of institutional support in male-dominated environments. Whilst these findings paint a bleak global picture, I end this article (and my thesis) with a sense of hope in the push back against these two governments by the feminist movement. In a climate of structurally perpetrated VAW, we must turn to the feminist civil society groups and grassroots social organisations, as vital emblems of hope and resistance in the darkness.


Jushya Kumar
GenPol Research Intern

Closing The Gender Pay Gap: A Long Struggle

  • January 31st, 2019
  • Blog

[photo credits, Scottish Women’s Cooperative]

2018 might be over but the gender pay gap is far from closed. According to the ONS, the UK’s gender pay gap in 2018 was 17.4%. This means that men’s average hourly earnings were 17.4% higher than women’s for full and part time work. Despite the fact that it is illegal to pay men and women differently for performing work of the same value, the general expense of taking employers to court (coupled with a lack of transparency about pay culture in general), ensures that justice for women is rarely served.

The historic scale of this injustice is something we must urgently consider as we move in to the new year. In her article ‘What’s to blame for the gender pay gap? The housework myth’, historian Emma Griffin demonstrates how, for centuries, work performed by women has been less valued, and paid less, than work performed by men. As such, she is able to illustrate how the value of work (whether perceived or otherwise)  continues to be shaped by ideas about gender.

Following on from Griffin’s work about the history of the problem,  this post will consider some specific cases of gender pay inequality. Over the course of my university research, I discovered that the Women’s Co-Operative Guild and the Air Transport Auxiliary were involved in attempts to gain greater pay equality for women. Although they remain under-researched, they illustrate how protest against gender pay inequality has a long and varied history. They act as a call to situate unequal pay in a broader context, including how it informs current debate about pay inequality in the UK.

The Women’s Co-Operative Guild set a precedent for contemporary considerations of gender equality, by drawing attention to the extent of labour (both paid and unpaid) that women were expected to carry out. For example, in 1911 WCG campaigned for housewives to receive National Insurance, arguing that ‘women who remained at home were workers, and that their work was as arduous as any other kind of work and just as valuable.’[1] This was particularly relevant to WCG members many of whom were working-class housewives without any fixed forms of external income. The WCG also campaigned for the rights of female Co-Operative employees, following the proposal of a minimum wage for male Co-Operative employees, in 1907. The women’s minimum wage they proposed was lower, for example 4s. a week for girls aged 14 compared to 5s. for boys. However, it seems that the WCG was campaigning for greater gender pay equality as a 1910 petition, signed by over 13,000 WCG members, argued that the minimum wage was ‘a step towards a living wage and the ultimate adoption of equal pay for equal work.’ WCG members used strategies such as proposing resolutions at Co-Operative Societies’ business meetings, to persuade local Co-Operative Societies to adopt the minimum wage. At a national level, after failed resolutions, WCG first gained a minimum wage for female packers, before gaining a minimum wage for all female Co-Operative employees in 1914.[2]

Almost three decades later, the Air Transport Auxiliary also took great strides to secure greater pay equality for women. ATA was a civilian organisation established in WW2 to ferry RAF planes. In 1940, ATA started employing female pilots, paying them 20% less than their male counterparts. It seems that Pauline Gower, who led the women’s section, was always in favour of equal pay; in 1940 the Marquess of Donegall wrote that he couldn’t ‘explain to Miss Gower why her girls should be paid less’, implying that Gower had already discussed equal pay with him.[3]

In 1943, Lettice Curtis became the first female ATA pilot cleared to fly four-engine bombers and Gower seized the opportunity to place equal pay back on the national agenda. After at least one failed attempt, Gower went directly to the Minister of Aircraft Production and in May 1943 ATA became the first organisation under government control with equal pay for men and women. Gower’s father was a former politician and according to some accounts, Gower threatened that Irene Ward MP would raise the issue in parliament if equal pay was not granted.[4]

ATA and WCG’s actions in the first half of the 20th century illustrate how there has been a long history of successful attempts to gain greater gender pay equality. They also demonstrate how achieving this success has been historically very difficult. Despite WCG’s mass mobilisation and Gower’s high up contacts, their steps towards greater pay equality involved failed attempts and took many years. Today, women’s salaries are generally lower than men’s while women still perform the bulk of unpaid housework. Moreover, just as we cannot understand Gower’s approach to gaining equal pay without understanding her social background, we must not underestimate how similar questions of race, class and ethnicity impact on women’s struggle for equal pay today.

Looking at WCG and ATA shows how our attempts to solve gender pay inequality are part of a long, difficult struggle. I suggest that adopting a historically engaged approach also encourages us to consider the broader context of pay inequality, revealing larger patterns of discrimination against women from all walks of life. Whilst progress towards true pay equality may be painstakingly slow, by looking back we can take strength and comfort from the huge strides made by the trailblazers who have come before us.

Rowan Cookson



[1] Gillian Scott, Feminism and the politics of working women: the Women’s Co-operative Guild, 1880s to the Second World War (London: UCL Press, 1998), p.86.

[2] Catherine Welles The woman with the basket the history of the Women’s Co-operative Guild, 1883-1927 (Manchester: The Co-Operative Wholesale Society, 1927), pp. 116-121.

[3] Edward Chichester, ‘Almost In Confidence’, Sunday Dispatch, 5 May 1940, p. 2.

[4] Giles Whittell, Spitfire Women of World War II (London: Harper Perennial, 2007), p.234.

Upcoming Conference! ‘#MeToo on Campus: Ending Sexual Misconduct in UK Universities’

  • January 18th, 2019
  • Blog

Were thrilled to announce an upcoming conference ‘#MeToo on Campus: Ending Sexual Misconduct in UK Universities’, which will be hosted  in conjunction with Westminster Briefing on Wednesday 20 March 2019 (venue TBC).

The‘#MeToo movement’ has highlighted the urgent need for universities to address the serious problem of sexual misconduct on campus. Nationally, the Office for Students has made this a key strategic objective, but universities must also be proactive in introducing their own policies to lead the way in reforming gender culture

This conference is your chance to explore your university’s next steps in embedding cultural change on campus and to ensure you avoid the sanctions and reputational damage that accompanies non-compliance.

We have a fantastic line-up of confirmed speakers, including:

  • Dr Lilia Giugni, CEO, GenPol (Event Partner)
  • Professor Janice Kay CBE, Member of the UUK Taskforce, Provost & Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Exeter
  • James Elms, ‘Good Lad Initiative’ Student Coordinator, University of Cambridge
  • Senior Representative, Office for Students
  • Kim Doyle, Chief Executive, LimeCulture
  • Dr Nina Burrowes, Founder, The Consent Collective
  • Julian Sladdin, Partner, Pinsent Masons
  • Georgina Calvert-Lee, Head of British Practice and Senior Litigation Counsel, McAllister Olivarius
  • Further speakers to follow

Join colleagues who share a passion for these important issues and attend this conference to hear from institutions with strong campaigns, policies and training that are improving ‘prevention and response’ to sexual misconduct in Higher Education.

View the full agenda here and don’t miss out by registering now. Right now, GenPol followers and partners can get a 20% discount by entering the code METOOGP19 at registration.

GenPol for Efeminista: Women in the public space

Our best New Year’s resolution for 2019? To continue to support women in politics.

Spanish magazine Efeminista interviewed our CEO Lilia Giugni and discussed British politics, feminism and how digital violence hits women in the public space harder, especially when they face additional layers of discrimination due to their race, sexual orientation, religious belief, socioeconomic class, ability, etc.

We do need more women in positions of power, but we also need them to be unequivocally feminist.

Read the full feature here (in Spanish).

Parental Leave and Premature Babies: Filling In Policy Gaps

  • November 19th, 2018
  • Blog

This piece is part of a series connected to GenPol’s work on parental leave in the UK and beyond.

On 1 October 2018, the UK government revealed plans to consult on the possibility of publishing “parental leave and pay” policies for businesses with over 250 employees. Business secretary Greg Clark made the announcement as part of a series of new measures designed to support parents, and notably new mothers, in the workplace. Clark’s comments come in the wake of a concerning report from the Labour Market Outlook: Focus on Working Parents in 2017, which found that just 5 per cent of new fathers and 8 per cent of new mothers have opted to take up their legal right to the SPL (Shared Parental Leave) scheme, first introduced in April 2015.

The concerning figures do not stop there. In March 2017, the UK was ranked the third worst country in Europe for paid parental leave. Under current legislation, Statutory Maternity Leave is 52 weeks, whereas fathers claiming Paternity Leave can choose to take either 1 or 2 consecutive weeks. The current wording of the legislation dictates that ‘paternity leave cannot start before the birth of the child, and must finish ‘within 56 days of the birth’. In the case of a premature baby, this leave can be extended to 56 days after the due date.

This somewhat dispassionate reference to premature birth is indicative of a wider gap in existing parental-leave policy. Current Parental Leave Legislation fails to set out any tangible guidelines to support parents confronted with a premature birth, and makes no allowances for the financial, emotional, and logistical impact this will have on their working life (or, indeed, on their return to the workplace). According to statistics published by the Premature Baby Charity Bliss,  up to 95,000 babies are cared for in neonatal units in the UK because they have been born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy). Parents often have to travel to hospitals on a daily basis and wait many weeks before their babies can actually return home.

In my case, it was three and a half months. I was born at 25 weeks, weighing 1lb 5oz (602g), and received treatment in a neonatal care unit from November 1990 to March 1991. Despite this, my family was, undoubtedly, very fortunate. My parents lived within easy commuting distance of an excellent NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and as secondary school teachers received a much more generous leave, and pay allowances, than the statutory minimum. My father’s school gave him 6 weeks leave on full pay without him having to ask (a particularly generous gesture given there was no statutory paternity leave available in 1990). My mother’s situation was sadly more complex. She was entitled to 3 months’ full pay, then up to another 9 months at steadily reduced pay. Complications arose when doctors thought it might be possible to stop her labour. If this had been the case, my mother would have had full sick pay up to my birth, and then 3 months on full pay afterwards. In the end I left the unit on the day my Mum’s full-pay leave ran out. She found herself at home with a new-born baby (her first), with a variety of health complications, and zero remaining full-pay leave to help ease this transition, from life in the unit to life at home.

(Ellen and her mum Maureen in the unit, December 1990. Photo Credits: Angus Walker)

Her situation, it seems, is still extremely common 28 years later. A lack of adequate parental leave (and pay) continues to be a prevalent source of stress among parents of premature children. More than half of new- mothers report anxiety and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following neonatal intensive care, and 40% of mothers develop postnatal depression following neonatal intensive care. Extra paid leave is a small gesture in the face of so much emotional strain, but is nonetheless an indispensable step in helping preemie parents, and especially mothers, feel supported in their return home and to work.

In October 2017, Sadiq Khan announced plans to grant extra leave for parents of premature babies, just months after a proposed Maternity and Paternity Leave (Premature Birth) Bill was scrapped in parliament. Under these new reforms, City Hall employees with a child born before 37 weeks will be entitled to a day’s premature baby leave and pay for every day between the date their baby was born and the due date. Both parents will also be granted additional neonatal leave, and pay, for every day their baby spends in neonatal care.

Whilst recent studies indicate that rates of survival rates for extreme preterm births are up from 40% to 53%, the odds still remain stacked against thousands of tiny babies across the UK. I do not think additional paid leave would have made these stakes seem any less terrifying for my parents, but I have no doubt that it would eased some of the financial and logistical pressures they had to contend with. My mother always used to say that having a premature baby was like being faced with an immense cliff face that all of us had to climb. Whilst no legislation or policy provision can ever efface the torturous traces of that ascent, it can go some way to making sure that cliff is less crippling for those who find themselves on it: an extra ounce of energy to help families keep the summit in sight.

Ellen Davis-Walker
Chief Marketing and Communications Officer
(25 weeks)

`We Need More Trailblazers`: Paternity Leave in Japan

  • November 15th, 2018
  • Blog

This piece is  part of a series connected to GenPol’s work on parental leave in the UK and beyond. It is based on an interview between GenPol directors (Ellen Davis-Walker and Chiara De Santis) and Seira Yun of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who is currently researching Paternity Leave in Japan at the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation. We really enjoyed his personal take on the unique dynamics that underpin these parental leave provisions. We hope you will too!


What is the current situation facing new (or prospective) parents in Japan?

New (or prospective) parents in Japan can benefit from a very generous parental leave regime if they want to, but only few fathers take up these benefits.

Japan has one of the best statutory paternity leave regimes with regards to its length and leave payment. Concerning the length of the leave, each parent can take parental leave, as an individual entitlement, until the child is 12 months old. A parent on leave receives sixty-seven per cent of their salary for the first six months, then fifty per cent of the salary for the remainder. In addition, the leave payment is not taxable and the recipients are not subject to social security contributions. These leave benefits are funded by the Employment Insurance system, which is financed by contributions from employees, employers and the state.

This generous parental leave policy is related to the concerns in shrinking population. Given Japan’s low birth rate the Japanese government has been implementing policies to encourage more women to work and reproduce in order to maintain the labour force needed to sustain the social security system of an aging society. One of these policies is a generous paternal leave policy so that women can have children without sacrificing too much of their career.

However, very few working fathers actually take up the paternity leave benefits they are legally entitled to. According to a survey conducted by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, the uptake rate of parental leave taken by fathers increased from 3.16 per cent in 2016 to 5.14 per cent in 2017 (compared with 83.2 per cent for working mother), which marked the highest percentage since the survey began in 1996 . In 2016, out of 3.16 per cent of the fathers who took paternity leave, more than 80% took less than one month of leave, and 56.9% took less than five days. The paternity leave uptake rate in Japan is significantly lower than in counties such as Sweden (88.3 per cent), Norway (90 per cent), Iceland (81 per cent), and France (62 per cent).

Why did you want to research the topic?  What exactly drew you to it?   

The idea for this research was born during a conversation with my wife. My wife and I discussed having a child, as well as practical arrangements for childcare because we both had full-time jobs. Given that we are both feminists, we’ve decided that I, as the father of any potential children, should take an equal, if not greater, share of childcare responsibility than my wife. As such, I started to study the paternity leave  policy in Japan. I was happy to find out that Japan has a generous statutory paternity leave regime compared to other countries. However, I was shocked by the huge gap between a generous statutory paternity leave policy and an extremely low uptake rate. I then started to search for information explaining the reasons for this discrepancy. While I found numerous studies on the same topic but conducted in different countries, I was not able to find academic articles examining the Japanese situation, except for a few.

Then I came across the case of Sony: an interesting case in regards to paterity leave; Sony has an extremely high rate of paternity leave uptake at approximately fifty per cent. However, there has been no academic research examining how Sony was able to change its organizational culture to encourage its male employees to take paternity leave. That’s why I decided to study Sony in order to understand how companies can change their organizational culture in order to create a conducive environment for working fathers to take up paternity leave.

What’s distinctive about Japan as a case study? What can we, and our readers, learn from it? 

As mentioned above, Japan is an extreme case in the sense that there is a huge gap between what is available for fathers and what they actually take up. We can learn from the case of Japan that just because we have a generous paternity leave regime, does not mean we can use it in practice. In other words, policymakers should be aware of the environment and set realistic policies at first and gradually get closer to the ideal. My friend Alexander Zapesochny gave me a valuable insight that perhaps more fathers in Japan would have taken paternity leave if the length of leave available were only four weeks. Because the gap between reality and ideal was so huge, for many, paternity leave exists only on paper. The case of Japan could provide an example that a ‘staircase’ approach rather than an ‘elevator’ approach get you faster to your destination.

In addition,  the case of Sony could provide the readers with valuable lessons on how we can create a conducive environment for fathers to take paternity leave even in a context like Japan where the majority of the population have not embraced the idea of paternity leave.

What do you think about the question of shared parental leave in addition to paternity leave? Can you outline your thoughts on these?

I believe that shared parental leave will not result in promoting gender equality, because the vast majority of shared leave will be used by the mother due to financial reasons and gender stereotypes. For instance, in Norway, the fathers’ uptake rate of shared parental leave was quite low until 1993 where the Norwegian government successfully increased the rate by reserving four weeks for fathers. If we want fathers to take parental leave, it should be an individual entitlement.

What do you think can be done to motivate employers to adopt and promote these policies in the workplace?

Firstly, researchers could conduct a quantitative analysis on the financial benefits of paternity leave. In fact, a study suggests that it is financially beneficial for employers if more male employees take up paternity leave because the recipients showed more job satisfaction and retention rate, both factors exceed the cost of their temporary absence. We need to mainstream this aspect of paternity leave. Second, brave people need to be the first ones to take paternity leave within the firm. Studies have shown that, once someone has taken paternity leave, many men follow suit many men follow suit. We need more trailblazers.

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