Japan's minister of the environment is doing something revolutionary, relatively speaking: He's taking two weeks of paternity leave. In workaholic Japan — and much of the world — that's quite a major step.
In a news conference Wednesday, Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi announced that he'll take two weeks off after his first child is born this month. Still, there's a catch: His paternity leave will be spread throughout a three-month period, so as to not detract too much from his demanding work schedule.
"I intend to take a total of two weeks of paternity leave in the three months after childbirth," Koizumi said, "during which the mother bears the heaviest burden, on the condition that I prioritize my official duties and thorough crisis management, as I have done," the Japan Times reported.
Koizumi, son of a former prime minister, is considered one possible successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Koizumi's supporters hope he'll set a trend for more men to feel comfortable taking paternal time off.
The law on the books in Japan is actually quite progressive. Both men and women can take up to a year of paid work leave after the birth of a child. But men rarely do.
According to 2018 figures from Japan's health ministry, 6% of working fathers and 82% of working mothers either applied for or took child care-related leave. Within that demographic, the largest percentage of men took fewer than five days off. For women, that figure was closer to 10 to 12 months.
Japan has been struggling to address falling birthrates, which some analysts partly attribute to the intense burdens placed on working mothers, coupled with the country's work culture, in which men face the expectation that they will commit entirely to their jobs.
Japan shows why there are two parts to the paternal leave equation: First, does a country have a national paid paternal leave policy? And second, if it does, do fathers actually use it?
Ninety-two countries — comprising about two-thirds of the world's children younger than 1 — don't have any national policy allowing paid paternity leave, according to 2018 data from UNICEF, the United Nations agency focused on children. For many families around the world, the question remains how to get by, and their governments are not making support on this front a priority.
That includes the United States, which is one of eight countries where there's no national policy granting either maternal or paternal paid leave. (But some U.S. states have instituted such policies.)
In contrast, Sweden has among the most generous and progressive parental paid leave policies. The Scandinavian country was the world's first to implement gender-neutral paid parental leave in 1974. These days, the policies offer parents up to 480 days off per child while receiving 80% of their income for 13 months.
All Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries — except the U.S. — provide a national form of paid maternity leave, while more than half offer some compensated time off for new fathers.