Sweden supports maternity leave bill

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The Swedish ambassador to the Philippines has expressed his support to the proposed bill expanding the maternity leave for working mothers.

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Harald Fries, whose wife is a Filipina with whom he has two sons, said he expects the Philippines to further improve its standing in Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum where the country was No. 7 in the top 10 and No. 1 in Asia-Pacific Region.

“Your legislators have passed the bill extending the maternity leave, which proposes to grant 120 days of paid maternity leave. This is a big development in closing the gender gap,” Fries told reporters at a roundtable held in his office on Wednesday.

In the latest global gap gender index, Sweden is No. 4 next to Iceland, Finland, and Norway. No. 5 is Rwanda and No. 6 is Ireland. After the Philippines are Slovenia, New Zealand and Nicaragua.

The Senate recently approved the Expanded Maternity Leave Act on third and final reading. The version at the Lower House is still being deliberated.

Senate Bill No. 1305 grants a total of 120 days of paid maternity leave to all female workers regardless of civil status or legitimacy of child, with an option to extend for another 30 days unpaid. Single parents will have 150 days of paid maternity leave.

In consideration of the Filipino culture and practices, the measure also allows 30 days of the 120-day maternity leave transferable to alternate caregivers such as spouse, common-law partner and relative up to the fourth degree of consanguinity, including adoptive parents.

In Sweden, parental maternity leave is a whopping 480 days. At this stage of advanced gender gap program in his country, Fries said what they are now concerned is how to make their women and girls become achievers.

The campaign to make women in Sweden become successful is gaining momentum with the appointment of three female officials to higher posts, namely Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström, Minister for European Affairs and Trade Ann Linde, and Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate Isabella Lövin.

Fries said the experience in Sweden is being felt also in the rest of Europe, saying for the past 20 years, the number of female members of parliaments in Europe has doubled.

In Sweden, Fries said gender equality is one of the corner stones of their society.

“We ensure that women and men enjoy the same opportunities, rights and obligations in all areas of life,” he told reporters he gathered at the embassy’s office at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City (Metro Manila).

He said everyone, regardless of gender, has the right to work and support themselves, to balanced career and family life, and to live without the fear of abuse and violence.

Fries said women’s contribution to productivity is very valuable.

“As per study, production increases by 30 percent with more women in the work force. You see, gender equality makes sense,” Fries said.

The Sweden ambassador said his government is pouring $20 million to non-government organizations, including those based in the Philippines, which promotes responsible sex like programs on sex education and distribution of contraceptives, among others.

He said the new law on responsible health is commendable. The only problem is that it could not be implemented pending the case filed before the Supreme Court. Fries also announced that 60 Filipina nurses were admitted to Swedish hospitals and are now undergoing language training.

He shared some tips on how to combat prostitution. He said Sweden passed a law declaring illegal to buy sexual services. He said although abortion is allowed in his country, a national board conducts investigation before allowing it.

The Church of Sweden has 125 females and 126 males, and their leader is a woman—Archbishop Antje Jackelén. Fries also cited that 2013, about 29,000 cases of violence against women were recorded and since then, the number cases have gone down.

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