Swedish embassy celebrates Women’s Day with a photo exhibition on fatherhood and parental leave

The exhibition, inaugurated on Wednesday by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nicos Christodoulides, who was there with two of his four daughters and Ambassador Vrang, features 25 pictures of Swedish fathers who chose to take parental leave and stay at home with their kids for a period of six months or more. The pictures are by award-winning Swedish photographer Johan BA�vman and have been displayed in 60 countries. Bavman, born in 1982, has put the pictures in a book with English texts, a signed copy of which was presented to the Minister during the inauguration.

The 12 pictures of Cypriot dads, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, were chosen among many that were sent to the Embassy after it launched an open call.

The exhibition will stay open until the 22nd of March.

During the inauguration we met a few Cypriot dads whose pictures are on display and spoke so highly of the initiative by the Embassy of Sweden. Costas Koufaris, one of the Cypriot dads, is the father of a little boy, who was born in Sweden while he was there for work with his wife. They lived in Stockholm for two years and this was an ‘eye opening experience for many aspects’, he told us.

Most of the dads came with their spouses and the kids in slings or pram, something you don’t normally see in Embassy events.

Ambassadors and other members of the diplomatic corps, UNSG’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Head and Press Attache of the Office of the European Parliament in Nicosia, representatives of the religious leaders in Cyprus were among the guests at the event.

Speaking to the Cyprus News Agency Ambassador Vrang said that in view of the International Women’s Day the Embassy wanted to celebrate motherhood and fatherhood, as parental leave for fathers is such an important issue for women in order to achieve gender equality in our societies, workplace and families.

So the timing is no accident. I’m definitely not here to review what Cyprus is doing to this end, a country that has so generously received me, but I feel that if we have something that we can show and we can learn from each other and share experiences, why not? And this is an exhibition that has toured in 60 countries, so it is not unique in being shown in Cyprus, it is a worldwide thing, she said.

We ask Vrang, a mother of a nine year old girl, if she thinks that a change of culture is what is needed in Cyprus as regards issues of gender equality in general. She says that it is hard as a foreigner to say and it is up to the politicians and the locals to say and answer.

But in basically all my conversations with Cypriots, wherever they are, I always mention gender equality and how I feel that this is one of the fundamentals for any society to develop and we see that there is a discussion also in a European level. In the European parliament they have also been discussing the issue of the parental leave in the last few years, she says.

Speaking about the photographer, Johan BA�vman, the Ambassador said that as he became a father he realized that there was a lack of male role models as fathers in his surroundings and he decided to identify some good examples for modern fatherhood. He put together a book of photos which was then put into this exhibition.

The feedback in all these countries it has toured has been positive. People enjoyed not only looking at the pictures but also reading the captions, that tell the story and how the fathers see their fatherhood, Ambassador says.

For Cypriot dads, the Embassy launched an open call.

We received wonderful contributions. The response was overwhelming, I don’t think my Embassy had such big response on social media ever before, so we felt that this is a topic that it is of interest in Cyprus. It was a difficult task to choose the 12 winners that are displayed here today, she says.

We ask about the role of media in gender equality and she says that in her country they talk about it and it is not a taboo.

But I am not here to say that Sweden is perfect. We have also a way to go when it comes to achieving perfect gender equality and parity. We can look at the statistics and see that we have some way to go. I think media is important for the debate on the issue and it can highlight good examples of many things, including parental leave, she points out.

Peter Kvist, the Deputy Head of Mission, is a father of two daughters himself, who are now 2 and 5.

With my eldest daughter I was shifting jobs from the UN to the Foreign Ministry and there I didn’t feel that I had the time to take extensive parental leave. I took some weeks but compared to many other Swedish fathers this is not too much. But with my second daughter I felt that this was my time, so I managed to take over 6 months and it was a fantastic experience. Not only did I get closer to my new born child, but also to my wife by sharing experiences and tasks in the house. I basically put myself in her shoes and her in mine and this developed our relationship very positively, he tells us.

Speaking about the pictures on display and putting the exhibition together, Kvist tells us that each picture is individual and each caption is a bit of a story in itself. He says he certainly recognizes himself in many of them.

There is one dad that says that being on a parental leave made him understand his mother, and this was exactly how I felt. I understood my mother and my wife in a much deeper sense, he says.

Kvist thinks that there is a big diversity in the pictures, but in all the 25 Swedish pictures and the 12 Cypriot, there is a message: That it’s a big everyday task being on parental leave, but that it at the same time is incredibly rewarding. It is cleaning, changing diapers and grocery shopping, but it is also this enlightenment of what is really important in life.

In general, the quality of all photos is fantastic. The captions are a bit more extensive in the Swedish ones because the photographer prompted them to talk, but the captions of the Cypriot dads are also wonderful. There is a general message that comes through and it is there, he says.

Some of the captions read:

‘The financial loss resulting from paternity leave is worth every penny. I gain greater confidence as a father, better understanding for my partner and strengthened ties to our children’.

‘When I changed my daughter’s first diaper I realised I would manage. Mothers are not better parents than fathers; parenting is something you learn. I think that some fathers diminish their abilities when it comes to parenting, to get away from the responsibilities of the home.

Invited to answer a question about gender equality, Kvist said that it is an important issue and he sees it all over the world.

And from a professional point of view, working in development for many years I have known that gender equality means good economics and that’s one aspect. It is easy to see GDP growth from women’s participation in the labour market for example. But then there is the value of gender equality from an emotional point of view, that you experience when on parental leave, and that was very interesting, he said.

Peter Kvist thinks that we should be promoting more events like this and that is is important to speak about gender equality not only as an issue of fairness towards women � which is important in itself – but also in terms of recognizing the links between gender equality and issues such as economic development and peace building.

There are many studies that show that gender equality is beneficial for the whole of society � men, women and children alike, he said.

FM: The importance of a fathers interaction and role modeling

Speaking during the inauguration the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nicos Christodoulides said that as a father of four girls, he has come to appreciate, understand, and experience first-hand the critical importance of a father’s interactions and role modeling.

He underlined that modeling a relationship in which women are respected and treated as equals will lead our daughters to seek men who behave in a similar manner, adding that research shows that girls with strong positive father figures, who live in a healthy family environment, have a lower risk of marrying, or partnering a man who is abusive, or who treats them in an unequal manner.

The Minister also said that deconstructing negative connotations related to girls and boys will help build healthier, happier children, where equality and respect will be among the main principles and values of our society. As a result, he added, we can meaningfully contribute in building stronger communities, where the different skills of women and men are utilized, resulting in more productive economies.

My situation, as a professional who is not in a position to spend a lot of time with my daughters due to the nature of my work, is the reality of many fathers nowadays. As a result, and due to the fact that my job requires many travel hours, inevitably many of my responsibilities in their everyday life fall on my wife’s shoulders, who is also a working mother at a very demanding job.

My effort is to make the limited time with them valuable in terms of quality, he said.

He also referred to the steps the Government is taking for gender equality and parental leave, saying that very recently has introduced a new legislation for the Protection of the Paternity effective August 2017 which provides that a working husband, whose wife gave birth, or had a child through a surrogate mother, or adopted a child under the age of 12, may apply for two consecutive weeks paid paternity leave, during the first 16 weeks from the week of the birth or adoption.

In May 2018 the legislation went a step further, and was amended so that unmarried couples, or those who have signed the civil union, are allowed the leave. Although we still have a long way to go, this is an important step forward, he said.

According to the Minister, between August 2017 and February 2018 the number of approved paternity leave was close to 2000 while the number of approved leave for the year 2018 was close to 3,500.

The Minister also pointed out that understanding the inequalities among women and men pushed him to proceed to the appointment of gender advisor, Josie Christodoulou, for gender mainstreaming in our foreign policy. The advisor will, among others, advise on the promotion and adoption of an institutional strategy towards equality between women and men, and the integration of the gender dimension within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the advancement of the role of the Republic of Cyprus towards in promoting equality between women and men at the regional, European and international level.

Important facts on Sweden

Sweden has one of the world’s most generous parental insurance schemes. The current system enables parents to stay home with their child for 480 days �paid for by the state. For 390 days, parents are entitled to nearly 80 per cent of their pay, up to a maximum level. The remaining 90 days are paid at a lower flat daily rate. Ninety of the parental leave days are reserved for each parent individually.

In 1974, Sweden became the first country in the world to replace maternity leave with parental leave.

Today, fathers are taking roughly 29percent of the total number of days available to the couple. If the fathers’ rate of parental leave continues to increase at the same pace as hitherto during the 21st century, parental leave will not be claimed equally until the mid-2030s.

Source: Cyprus News Agency