Do fathers in Oman deserve paternity leave?
August 22, 2015 | 8:13 PM

Muscat: While there is a prevailing view in society that maternity leave should be longer, there are differing views about the costs and benefits of introducing paternity leave in Oman.

According to the World Bank, the law in Oman does not ‘mandate paid or unpaid paternity leave’, and the question of whether or not the father of a new baby should be allowed away from work calls for a better understanding of the social fabric.

While it is acknowledged that paternity leave would allow the man to support the mother and bond with the baby, some are of the opinion that it is not necessary and would not completely suit the prevailing culture in Omani society.

Saada Mohammed Al Mamari, from the nutrition department of the Ministry of Health, has been calling for longer maternity leave but believes that introducing paternity leave wouldn’t be a good idea.

“Men may misuse it and do other activities instead of staying with the mother and helping her,” Al Mamari told the Times of Oman, and added that it is not necessary given the help provided by maids to mothers at home these days.

Hasna Fahim Al Said, co-founder of the Women Organisation, says that Arab fathers are not attracted to paternity leave for several reasons and therefore it has been deemed unnecessary.

“Firstly, most traditional Arab fathers are pushed to earn an income to support the family while mothers handle babies and all the housework,” she said.

In addition, the culture of Arab men is not supportive of the idea of taking care of babies, she said, noting that another reason is the fact that mothers usually can get support from their relatives.

Susan Flower, president of the Women’s Guild in Oman (WGO), says the issue of paternity leave is multifaceted and the pros and cons should be taken into account.

“I can understand the benefits of paternity leave, especially for expatriate families where a new mother may not have support from an extended family close at hand and needs help from her husband, especially in the first few days with a new baby, if there are any complications during birth. It is also nice for new fathers to be able to have time to bond with their children, irrespective of nationality,” she said.

However, there is a wider question as to how this might be funded, particularly for Omanis, as they have large families and as such there would be significant cost implications if employees regularly take paternity leave, added Flower.

“Conversely, in Omani culture, young families often live with their parents and/or other relatives or have extended family members close to hand, so in that respect paternity leave might not be necessary for the wider population,” she noted.

“In addition, there is a separate but related debate about child care arrangements, and I can also see a benefit in a more flexible system with mothers and fathers free to divide a set amount of paid leave between themselves, which could be better for businesses. If women, for example, could hand baby over to her husband rather than rely on child care, she may be encouraged to return to work sooner,” said the president of WGO.

Tonia Gray, general manager at Competence HR, says that it is ‘vital’ for fathers to be able to support the mother at the time of birth and immediately after.

“Often, there are other children in the family that need the presence of a parent and if the mother is in hospital then this would possibly fall to the father, depending on whether there are other suitable family members to help. Even if there are, the father’s role is still critical to the mother and baby. Omani families are very close and there is likely to be an effective support network in place, but this is unlikely in the case for expatriates,” she said.

Paternity leave is not just important for the father to bond with his new son or daughter but to support the mother who will probably be exhausted and will need all the support she can get, said Gray, and added that personally she thinks a period of paid paternity leave is essential to support the family unit during this time.

Ahmed Al Muqbali, an Omani national who is a father of three, says that introducing paternity leave can help promote the culture of men helping their wives throughout motherhood and would make fathers more responsible. “Paid paternity leave can also be a great support for families who cannot afford to hire housemaids,” he said.

Alauddin Shah, an Indian expatriate, says that non-Omanis should also be entitled to paternity leave if a law is introduced because most expatriate families are far away from their close relatives and can use the opportunity to support the mother and the new-born.

Reporter can be reached at [email protected]

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