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Should men in the UAE be entitled to paternity leave?

A number of high-profile figures in the UAE believe the country should introduce European-style paternity leave for dads, allowing them to take as much as six months off work -- fully paid -- to help look after new-born children.

Currently new dads get no paternity leave, by law, in the UAE. However, some private firms in the country do allocate days to them.

The subject of paternity leave was among the topics raised before a panel at New York University Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Campus on Sunday night. Topics were discussed under the banner 'Supporting Women's Work in the UAE: Transitions, Trajectories, and Intersections'.

And responding to a male audience member's query about what they thought of men in the UAE taking six month's off work -- "much like the laws in Switzerland" -- Rabea Ataya, founder and CEO of Bayt.com, said that he would be in favour.

Ataya said that following his own experience of taking a week of paid vacation following the birth of his first child, he introduced a week-long paternity leave for all of his male employees at job site Bayt.

"I realised when my wife delivered [our first child], I really needed to spend time with her and my newborn daughter," he said. "I couldn't imagine going back to the office the day after my wife had given birth."

He added: "If a male employee of mine came to me and said, 'I want to take six months off to take care of my child, in the same way a woman in the organisation would, would that be ok?' -- well, I've never been asked that question, but I certainly hope that my answer would be 'that is ok'.

"We are part of an organisation that treats people fairly, and different families have different arrangements."

Anisa Al Sharif, entrepreneur and former Director of Policy and Strategy for Socioeconomic Development at the Dubai Executive Council, agreed that paternity leave should be an option for UAE men.

"If women have the right to take maternity leave, then men should be able to have the same right," she said. "I say right, because it is not a privilege. If a man wants to take a six-month leave, then the system should support him in doing so. That's it."

She argued that the issue, along with others pertaining to women in the workforce, should be viewed from a gender-equality standpoint.

"I think this issue of women in the labour market won't stop existing until we stop talking about women and men separately," she added.

Women currently receive 45 days maternity leave under UAE law.

Fellow panelist Fatima Al Shamsi, the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Administration at Paris Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, agreed that the option should exist for men. However, she questioned whether fathers in the UAE would want to take time off to look after their children.

"I think the idea of giving the father paternity leave to take care of kids is very important, given that the father would accept it," she said.

However, Al Shamsi then added: "I don't think most fathers would want to leave work for six months to take care of their children."

Along with the issue of maternity and paternity leave, the panel also discussed the difficulties that Emirati women face in the workforce.

"Despite UAE women outnumbering men at higher education institutes, their participation in the workplace is very low," Al Shamsi said. "Cultural and social issues can prevent women from maximising their opportunities."

reem@7days.ae

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Jan 12, 2015
Words:593
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