Fire, ice, and paternity

Letter from Iceland.

The suspicion that benefits are somewhat more
generous in Nordic countries will be enhanced by news that in
Iceland parental leave has gone up to nine months, writes Steinunn

A new act on parental leave was implemented in
Iceland in 2000, giving fathers three months’ paternity leave. The
reform means that the total parental leave has been extended from
six to nine months: three months for the mother, three for the
father and the remaining three to be shared according to individual
wishes. The parental leave must be taken within the child’s first
18 months. All parents on leave receive 80 per cent of their salary
from a special fund established for the purpose.

The act aims to:

– Ensure children have relationships with both
their parents.

– Enable parents to reconcile family and work

– Increase the opportunities of fathers to
spend more time with their children and to take more family

– Decrease inequality between women and men on
the labour market.

– Co-ordinate the rights of parents on the
labour market independent of employer.

The act is part of a wider development in
family and equality policy in Iceland. In 1997, the government
implemented a special policy on families and established a family
council. The public family policy states that welfare of families
is based on the equality between men and women. It is emphasised
that both parents have equal responsibility in the home and in the
upbringing of their children. Therefore, it is considered necessary
to provide parents with the means to enable them to balance family
and work life.

In a conference held last year by the Centre
for Gender Equality in Iceland it was revealed that in 2001 over 90
per cent of men entitled to paternity leave took the leave, which
is a very satisfactory result.

In general, participants were pleased with the
opportunity for fathers to get paternity leave. However, it was
also felt that parental leave should be extended to one year.

Health care staff at the conference made the
point that the new legislation required increased parental
education and family counselling. Furthermore, education during
pregnancy must be adapted more to the needs of the fathers.

In the latest edition of Vera, an Icelandic
magazine about gender equality, there are interviews with fathers
about the experience of paternal leave. Most fathers appear
satisfied with parental leave and think it has a positive influence
on their relationships with their newborn children.

Fathers in Iceland have a much better
opportunity than their own fathers had to abandon traditional
gender roles and to develop early and close relationships with
their children.

It will be interesting in the future to
research the influence of fathers’ leave on changes in attitudes
both within families and in society. As one of the fathers reported
in Vera: “By establishing that the upbringing and care of children
is the responsibility of both parents, we have made huge progress
towards equality in the society for the benefit of all.”

Steinunn Hrafnsdottir is a social
worker and independent researcher at the


– Iceland (Lyoveldio Island) covers 103,000 sq
km – less than half that of the UK – and has a population of
276,000 (about the size of Coventry).

– Ethnic groups: homogeneous mixture of
descendants of Norwegians and Celts.

– Reykjavik, the capital, has a population of
110,000. In 1967 all social services were co-ordinated into one
institution, the Social Services of Reykjavik, under the social
welfare committee. The director of social services is head of the

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