Education International
Education International

EI General Secretary sees Iceland as “perfect world” for parents

published 22 May 2014 updated 28 May 2014

Despite modern social advances that have helped transform parental roles and identity, men and women still find themselves juggling the realities and accepting the sacrifices of raising children and going to work.

Although this balancing act of career and family continues to be true in too many parts of the world, one country is taking the lead to ensure parents and children have equal opportunities to succeed.

Iceland already boasts one of the most progressive parental leave systems in the world, currently mandating what’s known as a 3.5-3.5-3 scenario that provides mothers and fathers 3.5 months leave each, and 3 months to be shared between them. By 2016, leave will increase to 5-5-2, providing parents a full year to share child rearing duties. The system has helped redefine parenting roles, giving mothers greater career opportunities, while making fathers essential in raising their children.

Iceland’s success has not gone unnoticed. Education International’s (EI) General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen praised the island nation during a sub-plenary discussion, “Count Us In: Women's Participation in Work and Unions,” at the International Trade Union Confederation’s 3rd World Congress in Berlin.

The Icelandic system marks a “revolution in thinking of traditional roles… I think we should all move there,” said van Leeuwen, stressing that shared parental responsibilities increase women’s participation in the workplace, while helping erase stereotypes that traditionally leave fathers removed from the parenting process. “There should be no barrier between men and women.”

The EI General Secretary used the Icelandic model to highlight the role unions must play in order to make women more prominent at work, while creating strong foundations for children.

“We strongly believe we need to boost investments in early childhood education and care,” he said, in order to give all children an equal start. Although he admitted that focusing on children at the early stages won’t solve all problems, it is the most important step, calling it “a true investment.”

Van Leeuwen also used the opportunity to criticize unions that continue to be “macho,” preventing women from taking lead positions.

“Women are a minority when it comes to activists,” he said. “It comes down to culture. We need to open up our unions to address women’s concerns.”

Van Leeuwen pointed out that EI’s affiliates in both Europe and North America are led by women, but that much work must be done to see greater equality among the ranks.