Former United Democratic Front activist Mkhuseli Jack stands with is wife and children in his family's backyard in South Africa.

Former United Democratic Front activist Mkhuseli Jack stands with his wife and children in his family's backyard in South Africa.

Photo by Gideon Mendel/Corbis via Getty Images.

South Africa Establishes a Right to Shared Parental Leave

A landmark high court decision in South Africa has ruled that both parents have the right to a shared four months of parental leave from work.

South African parents will soon be entitled to shared parental leave. A landmark ruling by the high court taken at the end of last month grants both parents the right to take time off after the birth of a child or an adoption, allowing them to jointly decide how to divide a four-month parental leave period. Once ratified, the law would make South Africa the first African country to implement a shared parental leave policy. Previously, only mothers were entitled to four months of leave, while fathers or partners were limited to a maximum of 10 days.

Gender equality groups have welcomed the decision, which was made by Gauteng Division of the High Court in Johannesburg on October 25th. They say it is a big step forward in bringing the law closer to the Constitution’s principles of employment, equality, and dignity, and closer to recognizing the reality of life in South Africa.

However, there are drawbacks as to what it could mean for mothers. Speaking to the Guardian, Nkululeko Mbuli of Embrace, a social movement for mothers, says it still "shortchanges mothers." She argues that the judgment places the responsibility for leave on individuals rather than establishing a comprehensive caregiving system and that it also ignores the unemployed and those in insecure employment.

As it stands, many African countries, like Ghana and Cameroon, don’t currently allow paid leave for fathers, but there has been a slow increase in the number that do, over the past two decades. In those that do, the duration often remains below three weeks, with some allowing for only two or three days off.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), a UN agency, recommends parental leave, which is either paid or unpaid leave offered by an employer, for both parents. They prescribe that women should be given more than men to prepare for and recover from, child-bearing. The details of these policies range in scope across Africa. As paternity leave becomes more normalized, more African countries may become invested in offering mandatory leave for fathers, as tensions around working rights and parental rights have risen in several countries.

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