Shanghai: Shared parental leave on the horizon?

Society & Culture

The Shanghai Women’s Federation (SWF) is hoping to introduce a shared parental leave policy for both men and women in an attempt to encourage equal sharing of childcare among new parents.

In a press conference that took place recently, the organization announced that a proposal (in Chinese) regarding the policy is set to be submitted to local lawmakers during this year’s Two Sessions in March. According to the scheme suggested by SWF, in addition to 98 days of maternity leave it recommended to be reserved for women, new parents can divvy up another 40 days of parental leave however they see fit.

Under current regulations, women in Shanghai are entitled to 128 days of paid maternity leave. Men can only take up to 10 days of paid leave when they have new babies at home. But according to SWF, very few fathers in the city use that benefit, and many of them do not know such policies exist.

“If we agree that children are of both mothers and fathers, we need to recognize that the responsibilities of childcare should be shared among two genders as well,” the organization said in the proposal. “The onus cannot be placed entirely on women.”

In China, gender discrimination is rampant throughout the workplace. To avoid giving the benefit of maternity and parental leave, it’s not uncommon for employers to ask female job applicants about their marital status and if they have children when hiring. Ironically, the news of the proposal was met with a backlash from some male internet users, who argued that the introduction of shared parental leave would potentially result in job discrimination against men. “We only need to worry about women losing jobs under current policies. But if the new scheme is implemented, both mothers and fathers might face job loss,” one critic wrote (in Chinese). 

To some women, the opposition to the proposal served as a bleak reminder of how widespread sexism is in Chinese society, and how entitled Chinese men are to their privileges in the workplace. One Weibo user wrote (in Chinese),

I once thought they knew nothing and their oppression is unintentional. But after seeing these disgusting comments about the proposal, I came to realize that men were absolutely aware of their privileges in employment and they took them for granted.

Meanwhile, some people consider the policy not progressive enough, noting that what the proposal suggests should be billed as transferable maternity leave rather than genuine parental leave equally available to both parents. “Taking time off work to share childcare duties with their partners should be made mandatory for new fathers. It shouldn’t always be the women who face pregnancy discrimination at their jobs and be forced to drop out of work for childcare,” one Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).