Obstacles to gender symmetry - the controversy over parental leave reform in Norway
Ellingsæter, Anne Lise
Sociology and Human Geography University of Oslo Oslo, Norway
The policy institutions of the Nordic welfare states have come a long way toward the dual earner/dual carer model , which is why the Nordic countries serve as notable "exemplars" in current debates of institutional reform for gender equality. Paid parental leave arrangements are considered a crucial element of this model, and a particularly important measure in transforming the gender division of labour within the family. The Nordic countries have been the first taking steps in the direction of mandate sharing of leave - by introducing the daddy quotas. While most attention is directed at the outcomes - and the pitfalls - of the current leave systems, this paper examines obstacles to move parental leave policies further toward mandate equal sharing: Further expansion of the daddy quota has been a much debated topic in recent years in Norway and Sweden, but with little political success. Reasons for this impasse are addressed in this paper. The public debate in 2008 in Norway ensuing a proposal from a government commission on equal pay constitutes an especially informative case in that respect. The commission proposed a three-part leave division within the current leave arrangement, following the so-called "Icelandic model": one part for the mother, one for the father, and one to be shared at the parents' discretion. Main arguments against reserving more time for fathers were "parental choice" and the "best interest of the child" - that the child gets to spend as long time as possible at home under parental care, and that the child is being breastfed according to the recommendation of health authorities. The analysis concentrates on the different positions taken by political actors and interest groups, investigating in particular the underlying conceptions of equal parenthood.