The Trailing Filipino Husband (Part 2)

Published April 20, 2022, 11:40 AM

by Itchie Yap

Kay Misis ang hanapbuhay; Si Mister sa bahay

The Filipino family at their home in Switzerland

In the first part of this feature, we looked into the personal circumstances and motivations that led a Filipino couple to decide to leave everything behind, move their family abroad, following greener pastures. In that story, the well-established and newly promoted lawyer-husband, in abandoning his booming career to take on the traditionally woman-ascribed role of home care and child-rearing, quelled his ego and swallowed his male pride, all in the name of family love.

But not everyone is as fortunate to actually have a choice and consciously make that decision.

Freedom of choice in family life, set within the framework of national economy

An unbridled choice of whether to raise one’s family with a single income, with only one of the spouses working or, with both of them to run a two-income household, is a freedom not afforded all. Most of the time, that decision is not arrived at consensually. Families are often thrust into acceptance as if their family life is a game of cards where they are compelled by circumstances to stay with the hand they are dealt with and, as they say, are forced to good.

According to the poverty statistics by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), in the first semester of 2021 the poverty threshold (or what a family of five needed, on average, to meet their minimum basic food and non-food needs) is at P12,082 per month; and that the proportion of families with income less than that poverty threshold or the poverty incidence was estimated at 18 percent, which translates to 4.74 million poor Filipino families who cannot make ends meet.

With only one bread winner in a family, it appears that much would really be left wanting. Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) National Wages and Productivity Commission’s report on Current Real Minimum Wage at P494.02 per day for non-agricultural workers in the NCR, for example, in a simple computation of 26 workdays (Sundays excluded but without taking into consideration any other deductions like missed workday due to sickness) would amount to P12,844.52 per month, just a tad above the poverty line. Hence, we commonly hear a sole breadwinner say, “bawal magkasakit” (getting sick is not an option).

Gender roles and issues aside, the need for an increased earning capacity for the working spouse to truly afford the other spouse a choice to stay at home is often unfulfilled with the lack of opportunities. And better opportunities back home are elusive, oftentimes illusory. Having a two-income household then becomes a necessity for the family’s survival, rather than a matter of choice—and more so distant does the option of comfortably managing a one income household become.

Education system, social welfare, and other government policies

Switzerland

Fortunately for Mister Atty, and perhaps for other trailing househusbands like him in Switzerland, the opportunity to deliberately make a choice for the kind of family life they wish to have for themselves, their spouse, and their growing children, is supported by the system of their host country.

“I think the people here are paid enough and because everyone is well compensated, even if it is a single-income family, it’s fine,” confirms Misis Atty. “I think the Swiss system is designed that way. The public schools are designed with 1 parent at home in mind. For example, Wednesday is always half-day because they expect that someone, either the mother or the father, is always waiting at home for the kids. Also, in certain cantons, you get a family allowance for every child that you have. So, the state helps you out as well with the expenses in that sense.”

Losing your job in Switzerland is also not an outright death sentence. If you have Swiss residency and work permits and have been employed for at least 12 months within the past two years, you may be eligible for chômage or unemployment benefits which usually amounts to about 70% of your average wage earned in the year before you lost your job, or up to 80 percent if with dependent children or disability. Depending on the duration of one’s contribution, unemployment benefits may be received for up to two years. “Although this is not specifically for househusbands, it is good to know that the system is in place,” says Mister Laywer.

Germany

Meanwhile, in Germany, they have a pay scheme called Elterngeld or Parental Allowance. This scheme acts as a layer of protection for the economic impact that the birth of a child may have on new parents who may have had to work less or not at all after the birth. Depending on income and options taken, parental allowance may be availed for up to 12 or 14 months. It is normally calculated at 65 percent of the lost net income, with low earners benefitting from incremental adjustment up to 67 percent. In money terms, availing of basic parental allowance meant taking home between €300 and €1,800 (about P17,000 to P102,000) per month.

Because it is not written into the policy that child-rearing is a gender specific role, it encourages both parents to spend time with their newborn. Spouses can split the months between them or apply at the same time or alternately, taking turns in the shared responsibility that is parenthood.

Pair the Elterngeld or parental allowance with another German social system for the benefit of the family called Elternzeit or Parental Leave, and you have a sweet formula for raising a family on one income stream, regardless of who between the spouses principally “brings home the bacon” or who gets to “cook” it.

Elternzeit or parental leave is an unpaid break from working life for mothers and fathers who look after their children themselves. With this policy, an employee may request from the employer release from work for up to three years without danger of dismissal. During such leave, you either work a maximum of 30 hours per week (increased to 32 hours per week for parents whose children were born after Sept. 1, 2021) or you do not work at all. If you do not work, you also do not get paid. But remember that the system may have you covered for the loss (or reduction) of income with the parental allowance.

It is no wonder then that in Germany the idea of a husband doing the household chores and taking care of the children is not too alien a concept. They are called hausmänner. But is it a sign of role reversal, or has a social system and policy that is not gender-based (or gender-biased, if you wish) been effective in blurring the traditional gender roles in the home?

Philippines

Back in the Philippines, although we relish the 2019 passage of the 105-Day Expanded Maternity Leave Law which increased the compensable number of days of maternity leave benefit for female workers with an additional 15 days paid leave if the female worker qualifies as a solo parent; and even as we consider the seven days paid Paternity Leave for fathers under the Paternity Leave Act, which now may effectively be expanded to 14 days with pay if the mother transfers seven days out of her 105 days, for shared parenting—that is still a far cry from the 12-14 months of Elterngeld in Germany.

On the bright side, our maternity and paternity leave benefits are comparable with the Swiss’ 14 weeks (98 days) of maternity leave and two weeks (10 days) of paternity leave, and fare better with the sharing scheme which does not exist in Switzerland. But perhaps best of all, we are way ahead in the recognition of the father’s role in early childcare with the grant of the parental leave way back in 1996, which for Switzerland only began in January 2021.

But whichever of the social schemes we support, the economics of raising a family is just half of the story. How parents make good of the breaks given them to care for their children is the other.

[to be continued…]

The family interviewed for this feature has requested not to be personally identified by their real names but have granted permission for the publication of their story and likeness.


Itchie Yap, the time travelling storyteller, is a creative writer based in Europe. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Join her advocacy in supporting the Global Filipino community and share her stories.

 
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