Finland’s government announced reforms of the country’s paid parental leave program, giving both partners in a family equal amounts of leave and increasing the total amount of leave available to both.

Under the old system, maternal leave was 4.2 months, and parental leave was 2.2 months. The new plan is gender-neutral, referring only to parental leave. It increases the amount of leave for each parent to 6.6 months, combining to 13.2 months. Parents will be allowed to transfer about 2 months of their leave to their partner. Pregnant women will receive 7.6 months, one extra for the month leading up to the expected birth. Single parents will be allowed to use the full allowance of 13.2 months.

The new plan comes from Finland’s new government, led by prime minister Sanna Marin. Marin, 35, was sworn in in December 2019. She is Finland’s youngest prime minister to date and its third female prime minister. Four of the five parties in her coalition are led by women, four of whom are under the age of 35.

Marin said that despite Finland’s status as a “pioneering” country for gender equity, it still had changes to make. She spoke about the reasons behind the parental leave reform, noting that “too few fathers were spending time with their children while they were young.” She and her husband split their parental leave in half, each spending 6 months with their daughter. Reform of the program, she said, was “benefitting everybody, so we need everybody on board.”

Finland’s Minister of Health and Social Affairs, Aino-Kaisa Pekonen, echoed Marin’s claims: “This enables better equality between parents and diversity among families.” She also pointed to other European countries’ paid leave programs as evidence of success: Sweden and Iceland saw increases in their birth rates after offering more parental leave; Finland’s birth rate fell by a fifth from 2010 to 2018 and it’s expected that the reformed policy will help. A 2019 directive from the European Union gives member states three years to provide each parent with at least four months’ leave.

Sources: BBC 2/5/2020; The New York Times 12/9/2019; CNBC 1/23/2020; National Post 2/5/2020.

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