Abu Dhabi, UAE: Policymakers have been urged to provide more support for new parents, including greater entitlement to maternity and paternity leave and time off work to care for a sick child.
Experts say such changes are essential to strengthen the family unit, promote parenthood and increase the number of skilled women in the workplace.
"We have to do everything we can do to secure the development and well-being of children," Johanna Lammi-Taskula, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Health and Welfare in Helsinki, Finland, told a conference in the capital.
She said progress could be made on government support services, benefits for couples becoming parents and workplace leave schemes that focus on family.
In Finland, parents receive maternity grants, child benefits for children under 17 and child home care allowances.
"The main focus of family policy is work-family reconciliation. Supporting working motherhood and emphasising caring fatherhood are the two important aspects of work-family reconciliation policy," Ms Lammi-Taskula said.
"As a result of this kind of family policy, the employment rate of women in Finland is high. In 2011, 75 per cent of mothers with children under 18 were employed outside the home."
Mohammed Saeed Al Neyadi, a strategic planning and development consultant at the Family Development Foundation in Abu Dhabi, said institutions could play a role in promoting parenthood.
"Caring for children is a very difficult task, whether it’s for the mother or father," he said. "Institutions can help parents care for their children by providing support, programmes and services, even after school.
"For example, some organisations have designated rooms especially for children. They should try and provide services that will help a mother and father better care for their children.
"If the mother is reassured that her children are fine, it will benefit her personally and in her work life."
Mr Al Neyadi said there was a need to "change the mindset of institutions, to help new mothers and fathers.
"When a mother stops working, we are losing a skill and experience, and it will affect the institution negatively. The country will benefit from working women."
Nancy Merheb, a researcher at the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, hoped the views expressed at the conference would influence policymakers.
"I think what is important is that decision and policymakers take advantage of this in order to shape policies that already exist in the UAE," she said. Although the UAE had policies on maternal leave and paternal leave, these could be amended to be of greater benefit to parents.
"The father is allowed three days’ paternity leave, which, in my opinion, is too little. A father cannot support the mother within three days," she said.
Ahmad Al Ghoraibe, strategic planning and institutional development adviser at the council, said the conference should be a stepping stone to developing existing policies.
"It was a great chance to hear and learn from the experiences of Scandinavian countries, which are number one in matters of childhood and motherhood," he said.
"We are now in the phase of preparing a strategy for the Supreme Council. We are preparing policies and procedures that can maybe give the Supreme Council advice on policies pertaining to motherhood and childhood."
This month Sharjah’s Executive Council ruled that expatriate mothers should have 60 days’ maternity leave, which has led to calls for greater support for new parents.
Women working for the government are entitled to 60 days’ maternity leave, and those in the private sector to 45 days. Fathers have three days of paternity leave.
Members of the Federal National Council argued last year that existing maternity leave was inadequate.
© The NationalFeb 2014