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South Africa introduces shared parental leave, a first in Africa

South Africa has taken a groundbreaking step in becoming the first African country to implement shared parental leave. This landmark decision, resulting from an October ruling by the Johannesburg High Court, grants fathers the right to share four months of parental leave with their partners. Prior to this ruling, mothers were entitled to four months of leave, while fathers were limited to a mere 10 days.

Addressing discrimination

The court deemed the previous parental leave laws as discriminatory, not only in terms of gender but also in their treatment of adoptive and surrogate parents. These parents were previously restricted to 10 weeks of leave for one parent and 10 days for the other. The new ruling ensures that all sets of parents have equal access to the full four months of leave, and single parents of any gender can take the entire leave by themselves.

Implementation and implications

While the parental leave is unpaid, parents can claim unemployment benefits. South Africa's parliament has two years to develop the new laws, taking into account the country's high unemployment rate of around 32%. Shared parental leave is gradually gaining recognition across Africa, but many countries still lack paid paternity leave, and some offer only a few days off. The global average for paternity leave currently stands at 21 days, compared to 191 days for maternity leave. Shared parental leave can play a crucial role in addressing gender imbalances in the unpaid care economy, where women shoulder 76% of the unpaid care burden. The lack of adequate care infrastructure remains a significant barrier to women's participation in the workforce.

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