Creating opportunities for equal parenting in Georgia

Advocating for more equitable policies

TBILISI, Georgia — When Mirian Jugheli became a father and decided to take paternity leave in order to participate more actively in raising his daughter, his decision surprised many people.

“I wanted to be at home from my daughter Liza’s very first minutes and allocate as much time to her as possible, to divide the work with my wife and create an example for other fathers,” says Jugheli, a communications specialist and an active participant in the global MenCare campaign to promote male involvement in childrearing.

Such decisions are rare in Georgia, where a survey carried out by UNFPA in 2014 — the same year Jugheli started his paternity leave — showed the prevalence of stereotyped beliefs that women should be solely responsible for childcare and housework. Such beliefs create a barrier for men to equally share parenting with their partners. They also make it difficult for working mothers to advance in their careers and be treated equally in the workplace.

UNFPA is actively working in Georgia to improve legislation governing parental leave while also raising public awareness about the importance of a father’s active role in the family.

“The engagement of fathers has a significant positive impact on child development, family relations, and the social and economic role of women,” says Lela Bakradze, head of UNFPA’s Country Office in Georgia. “We’re working to address this at the political level, while also fighting against the existing stereotypes in society.”

Advocating for more equitable parental leave

Georgian law does not specifically address the idea of a father taking parental leave, even though such gender-neutral leave policies are not typically successful in getting men to take time off to be at home due to stereotyped gender roles. In the public sector in Georgia, a new parent can take two years of leave, only six months of it paid. In the private sector, decisions on parental leave are solely made by the employer. State support to the parents of an infant is limited to a single monetary allowance that is received based on a document issued under the mother’s name.

“It is important to create the conditions under which young parents will not have to face a painful dilemma – a child or a job — and which will enable both women and men to have their desired number of children, when they want to have them,” says Bakradze of UNFPA Georgia.

Ana Tsurtsumia with her daughter Tuta. Photo by Dina Oganova for UNFPA Georgia

Current rules in the labour market mean that women often have to make a choice between career advancement and motherhood, says Ana Tsurtsumia, an international relations specialist and mother of a six-year-old girl. When Tsurtsumia gave birth to her daughter, Tuta, her employer only offered 40 days of maternity leave. (Her husband wanted to take paternity leave, too, but his company did not offer this opportunity.)

“People said things like, ‘Let’s see if you go back to work after your maternity leave or not,’ but I wanted to prove that pregnancy and having a child does not mean that women are no longer reliable employees, or that they are not interested in professional development anymore,” Tsurtsumia says. For her, going back to work after her leave was never in question: her family needs her salary as part of their income.

“We no longer live in an era or a society where the man is the sole breadwinner in the family. The majority of young women around me fully and equally share the responsibility to provide for their families,” she says. “It’s not right that the single financial assistance offered by the state to parents is a remuneration for maternity leave.”

Economic empowerment for women

Improving the terms and conditions of parental leave is essential in order to achieve women’s economic empowerment, agrees Bakradze of UNFPA Georgia. “Men’s active involvement in housework provides more time and space for women’s professional growth and development. If the state creates family-friendly policies that allow both mothers and fathers to equally enjoy parental leave, we will have more economically empowered men and women, more harmonious families, happier children and consequently – a better society,” she says.

The time Jugheli took off to be with his daughter, now age five, has given them a close relationship, an experience he often shares with new or potential fathers when he talks to them about the importance of parenthood within the framework of the MenCare campaign.

More and more men are starting to share his perspective.

“The number of supporters of the MenCare campaign is increasing daily,” says Bakradze of UNFPA Georgia. “This indicates that there are more men than ever before in Georgia today who realize the need for men’s engagement in achieving gender equality.”