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Paternal leave for child care: how much has changed in 25 years?

Brendan Martin, 19 September 2012

In 1989, when I was working for the British trade union Nalgo -- long since merged into Unison -- I asked if my job could be shared, so that I could go part-time and share my young children's care equally with their mother.

By then a few Nalgo employees were job sharing, but I was the first man, and it was then so unusual that the Observer published a feature about my decision. The great Jane Bown even came to my house and took our picture, which appeared with the article.

My daughters are now 27 and 24, and I assumed back then that by the time they were ready to have children of their own (should they make that choice!) it would be normal for couples to share domestic and paid work. How naive I was, and maybe those of us who assumed the future would be more to our liking should have done more to make sure it turned out that way.

As it is, the other day I took part in a British TUC seminar that suggested very little has changed. In fact, the two young women who shared the lift with me on the way out both declared themselves thoroughly depressed by what they had heard.

What I found most striking in the TUC seminar was that when I asked "what are the obstacles" to reducing gender segregation in both paid and unpaid work, no-one suggested that the issue needs more priority in the trade union bargaining agenda. Now that the majority of British trade unionists are women, perhaps that will change? 

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