Gender equality-oriented policy-making adopts a complex attitude toward the role of fathers. While some branches of the legislative branches see the potential in engaging fathers in the household for promoting gender equality, others see the risk in men appropriating women’s few sources of power. In this article, the subject positions given to men in the legislative process of the birth leave for fathers programme in Israel are examined. I show how, in accordance with this division, fathers are given two subject positions – that of the enemy and that of the ally. However, policy-makers fail to put fathers in the role of citizens, seeing them as entitled to rights based on their own status. This situation mirrors the citizenship of Israeli women, who are, in turn, limited to their motherhood. While the claim that fathers are not seen as citizens, and that their rights are not protected enough, might sound absurd, I claim that such a position is required in order to promote a radical change in the division of labour within the household.
Developments in leave policy in Israel during the decade 2007-2017 followed what could best be described as an uncertain route. On the one hand, after five decades of stalemate, in this decade leave was extended several times in several ways. First, paid Maternity Leave increased from 12 to 14 weeks, followed by an extension of unpaid leave, the introduction of Paternity Leave, and finally – following a social struggle – the further extension of paid leave to 15 weeks, with the promise of further extensions. However, these incremental changes were minimal, even in the eyes of their initiators. Among policymakers and activists alike, the consensus was that leave for parents was too short to answer families’ needs, and that the changes had to be seen as small steps toward a larger goal – which remained unachieved. This situation, the chapter argues, can be understood as a tension between the combined effects of Israeli familialism and international developments in leave policy, on the one hand; and the extreme neoliberalisation of the Israeli welfare state and its adherence to the ‘austerity of welfare’ principle, on the other.
While it is widely accepted that social work interventions are more productive when they include fathers, fathers are largely left out of child and family social service interventions in Israel and most Western countries. Current research worldwide focuses on the role that fathers, mothers and social workers play in causing this phenomenon. In this article, we shed light on the importance of a fourth element: the policy-making process. In a case study of Israeli social services, we interviewed leading bureaucrats and policy makers regarding their position on engaging fathers and identified three main conflicts hindering policy makers’ ability and motivation to promote policy favouring father engagement: a gendered profession conflict, a political conflict, and an ethical conflict. We show how these conflicts, each emerging from a different sphere, together create a conflict-ridden environment that may explain policy makers’ lack of action. Finally, we provide our conclusion and discuss the limitations of the study.