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This month’s Research Spotlight is on Dr Manisha Mathews and her work on fatherhood, leave policy and equality law.

Photo of Manisha Mathews

As an early career scholar and former PhD candidate at the University of Birmingham, my research was funded by the College of Arts and Law Doctoral Scholarship to explore how the minimal participation of fathers in childcare can be partly attributed to their experiences of paternity discrimination when they attempt to be actively involved. Fathers in the United Kingdom primarily experience lesser treatment under the employment law governing leave entitlements and the current workplace culture. First, the take-up rates of entitlements by fathers have been minimal because they are subject to stringent eligibility requirements, low levels of replacement pay and can typically only be taken for a short term. Second, the culture in the workplace is reminiscent of a “macho” culture wherein fathers who request to exercise entitlements are often mocked for undertaking typically female-oriented labour, experience negative feedback, and risk demotion or job loss (Women and Equalities Committee, 2018). The lesser treatment of fathers under employment law and in the workplace is derived from the adherence to the traditional “male breadwinner” model wherein fathers and mothers are stereotyped to be the economic breadwinners and the primary carers of children respectively.

Similar to the objective of my research, fathers in the court system in England and Wales have attempted to reconceptualise their lesser treatment as an equality harm. In the 2014 case of Shuter v Ford, the 2018 joined appeals of Ali v Capita and Hextall, and the 2021 case of Price v Powys County Council, fathers argued that their receipt of statutory pay on additional paternity leave or shared parental leave, whilst mothers received enhanced pay on maternity leave or adoption leave amounted to sex discrimination. Unfortunately, the Tribunal disagreed and decided that fathers and mothers on leave were incomparable because many mothers were biologically different to fathers due to their ability to become pregnant, give birth, and breastfeed. Additionally, the Tribunal established that there were also distinctions in the social expectations regarding the roles of motherhood and fatherhood because mothers shared a uniquely special bond with their children unlike fathers and would assumably be the primary carer. My particular critique on the judgment in Price v Powys County Council was published in the Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law this year and can be found here.

Although my research recognises that fathers also share a special bond with their children and childcare is a gender-neutral long-term responsibility that either parent can perform, the Tribunal wrongly determined that the sole allocation of enhanced pay to mothers was for their benefit. Yet, mothers typically experience higher levels of discrimination than fathers because employment law and workplace policies generally support mothers as being primarily responsible for childrearing, rather than enabling shared childcare. The promotion of shared childcare would effectively alleviate the “double burden” of familial and workplace obligations largely placed on mothers (Krapf, 2014) and simultaneously enhance the position of fathers in childcare. However, gender equality within the context of parenting will be difficult to achieve since the legal prohibition of sex discrimination is insufficient to tackle the discrimination directed against fathers. Fathers experience discrimination due to the intersect between their “sex” and their “parenting status” and, therefore, my research advocates that “paternity” needs to be included as a protected characteristic under s.4 of the Equality Act 2010 and a ground of discrimination under art.14 of the Human Rights Act 1998. Publications on my research are currently under review and have been disseminated in presentations delivered this year at Ulster University, University of Birmingham, University of Leicester, York St John University and Durham University. If my research is of interest to you, please do get in touch!

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