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The traditional division of gender roles in parenting in modern society is going through a series of changes that are significant both at the level of individuals and society as a whole. In the Serbian society, there are different perceptions regarding the participation of parents of different genders in parenting, as shown by the project “Super Dad: Fatherhood and Unpaid Work – Gender Transformative Policies and Practices”, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development – BMZ. The project was implemented by the Gender Knowledge Hub during 2023, with the support of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GIZ GmbH.

The “Super Dad” project represents one of the steps towards changing the dominant model of parenting in Serbia. Its objective is to contribute to the reform of public policies related to the development and implementation of gender-responsive and transformative parenting. The project resulted in concrete proposals for measures and activities that will improve the gender perspectives of fatherhood. Also, numerous activities within the project contributed to promoting a gender-responsive and gender-transformative model of fatherhood, which increased the visibility of the gender perspective in models of caring fatherhood.

The research conducted considered several aspects: experiences and attitudes of fathers regarding gender-responsive fatherhood; experiences, attitudes, and expectations of women – mothers and children (sons and daughters) in terms of gender equality in the parenting process. In order to gain a comprehensive insight, members of various vulnerable social groups – LGBTIQ+, Roma population, people with disabilities – were also included in the research. The results of the research have shown that, as a society, we are facing a decline in the purposeful participation of fathers in the upbringing of children and that only between 0.45% and 0.56% of fathers take parental leave to take care of their child. A survey was conducted as part of this project that showed that 57% of women take care of their children mostly alone, while 38% of them stated that they share childcare responsibilities together with their partner. As opposed to that, men seem to be “milder” in their own assessment of their participation in parenting. As many as 54% of male respondents consider that they participate jointly in parenting with their partner.

Based on the research, the project made recommendations for improving the existing regulations in this area. The recommendations include mandatory leave after the birth of a child for parents of both sexes with 100 percent of salary paid during the leave for 30 consecutive working days or 4 times seven working days during the first six months following the birth of a child. The applicable domestic legislation recognises (financial) support, which is mainly meant for women to help them find a balance between work and parenthood, but it does not explicitly exclude men. Namely, the Labour Law recognises the right to maternity leave primarily for mothers who are employed, while fathers have the right to the same in exceptional circumstances: in the case when the mother abandons the child, dies, or is prevented from exercising that right for other justified reasons (if they are serving a prison sentence, or have a serious illness, etc.). Also, the father has the right to paternity leave in line with this law when the mother is not employed. However, despite the existence of this legal possibility, very few fathers actually use it. Data from media sources show that only 327 fathers in 2022 used the legal opportunity to take leave from work to care for a child, which is less than one percent, since the total number of live births in that year amounted to 40,000.[1]

The National Strategy for Gender Equality of the Republic of Serbia for the period 2021-2030 foresees measures related to balancing work and parenthood, which proves that this topic is important for society. The normative framework at the European level also recognises the right of fathers to take leave from work in the first days of parenthood. The Work-Life Balance Directive, which is part of the European Union’s acquis and is mandatory for member states, introduces mandatory paternity leave of 10 working days for fathers on the occasion of the birth of their child (a few days before and/or after) and mandatory parental leave for at least two up to four months for fathers to take care of their child. In addition, it defines the expansion of flexible working arrangements for parents of children under the age of eight.

The support of the system is unequivocally necessary because current practices show that it is mothers who, especially in the first period, raise and take care of children, while fathers are less actively involved in parenting, mainly due to work-related obligations. This is also supported by data from the Research on Time Use in the Republic of Serbia from 2022 conducted by the Serbian Statistical Office[2]. This research has shown that women spend twice as much time doing unpaid work compared to paid work, while the opposite applies to men. Also, for now, there are no measures in Serbia that encourage employers in the private sector to increase and promote the role of fathers in parenting. This primarily means promoting the use of paternal leave for child caring purposes, but also sick days when small children are sick and when they do not go to kindergarten or school, which often represents an obstacle for women employed in the private sector to keep their jobs and advance in their careers.

In order to increase the parental competences of fathers and establish stronger ties with children from an early age, the project proposed also, as one of the measures, another amendment to the Labour Law. This measure entails the obligation of the employed father or adoptive parent to use at least three months of parental leave to take care of the child, after the mandatory maternity leave for mothers. This measure would also allow mothers to return to work earlier after the birth of a child, which will contribute to reducing discrimination against women in the labour market and allow men and women to be equally absent from work on the occasion of the birth of a child.

Also, in order to increase the role of fathers in the first days following the birth of a child, it is necessary to introduce another amendment to the Labour Law. With a view to improving this area, the project envisages the necessity of increasing the time that a worker should spend with their newborn child and their partner. In other words, it is considered that the five days leave foreseen currently by the said Law should be increased to ten working days.

One of the important conclusions of the research is that the role of fathers in parenthood is significant and that any attempt aimed at strengthening the participation of women in public space and improving gender equality in Serbia is of immense value. The inclusion of men in this segment will make it much easier for us, as a society, to deal with the “crisis of masculinity” and with the division of mothers and children into one group, and fathers into another group. The main reason behind this is that it is difficult to change such division later on and to transform it into sufficient closeness, joint responsibility and joint agreement of parents as partners.



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