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Faroe Islands: Four weeks enough for father and child?

Faroe Islands: Four weeks enough for father and child?

| Text: Rólant Waag Dam

Faroese fathers use four out of the 52 weeks of the available parental leave while mothers use 48. The reason is economic, explains a father and the head of the Gender Equality Commission.

Parental leave is something the Faroese talk about a lot. The parental leave system. The length of parental leave. How the 52 weeks are divided between the parents. Paid parental leave. People in the Faro Islands have been talking about this for years, parents and politicians alike. 

Politicians are parents too. One of them took his employer to court in 2009. Kári á Rógvi argued he had the right to two weeks of paid parental leave. We will come back to the ruling in that case. But first, we fast-forward to 11 August 2022.

Big difference between 25,000 and 45,000

The head of the Gender Equality Commission in the Faro Islands (Javnstøðunevndin) is on the radio with a rather strong message.

“The ceiling for parental leave payments should be at least 45,000 kroner (€ 6,050) a month to be sufficient,” says Mai Laksáfoss Simonsen.

The statement comes in the wake of an announcement from the Minister of Industry and Trade, Magnus Rasmussen, that the ceiling for parental leave payments will increase from 25,000 to 27,000 kroner – which is quite a bit less than 45,000 kroner. And this is a problem, according to Laksáfoss Simonsen, because it means the parent with the lowest pay will take the majority of the parental leave. In the Faroe Islands that is usually the woman. 

Mai Laksáfoss Simonsen

Mai Laksáfoss Simonsen. Photo:

“This is a structural problem which means that even if fathers want to take more parental leave, they don’t because the payment ceiling is so low,” says Laksáfoss Simonsen. She is not the only one to argue this point. 

Rógvi Olavsson became a father in October last year. He looked into what options he and his girlfriend had when it came to parental leave. They ended up chosing the same as most other Faroese families do – the mother stayed at home with the child for most of the allotted time. 

“If the system followed wage levels, I would definitely have taken a larger part of the parental leave than I ended up doing,” Olavsson told the Faroese TV news programme Dagur & Vika on 10 March, around the time when opposition party Progress (Framsókn) proposed to introduce indexation to parental leave payments.

That proposal did not get parliamentary support, but the debate has reemerged with the Minister of Industry and Trade’s announcement to increase the payment ceiling by 2,000 kroner.

Parental leave and money problems

The Faroese parental leave system stems from 2001 and was last changed in 2020 when the current government extended the period of leave from 48 to 52 weeks. Mothers can take the first 14 weeks off. The father has the right to take four weeks off. After the mother’s 14 weeks, the parents can take up to 52 weeks parental leave (or 48 weeks if the father chooses to spend his four weeks together with the mother during the initial 14 weeks). 

The parents are free to choose who takes what time off during these 34 weeks. This means that Faroese fathers in principle can have the same or longer parental leave than the mother. But this is where the problem with pay comes in.

Men in the Faroe Islands earn more than women. According to Statistics Faroe Islands, in June this year men were paid 578.8 million Danish kroner in wages while women were paid 371,1 million. In June last year, Faroese men were paid 528 million and women 339 million.

These are the numbers that make Laksáfoss Simonsen at the Gender Equality Commission describe this as a structural problem. She is supported by the head of the union for economists and lawyers in the Faroe Islands, Elisabeth F. Rasmussen.

“We want a system that makes it more likely that fathers take their share of parental leave, but we do not think 2,000 kroner will make a difference,” she told the public broadcaster Kringvarp Føroya on 12 August. This is not the first time she criticises the current parental leave system. 

Back in March, she called it “a social problem. Mothers spend longer away from the labour market, they lose out on pay and pensions and it can stifle their career opportunities.” 

MP vs. parliament

Let us return to that lawsuit, where an MP took parliament to court.

“The case centres on whether Kári á Rógvi is entitled to be paid wages during his parental leave from his work as an MP,” said the legal documents. He did not, ruled the Faroese Court in 2011. According to the law, male MPs did not have that right. Female MPs, however, did have the right to paid parental leave.

At the time, Kári á Rógvi referred to the gender equality law, which he argued gave him the right to paid parental leave because it is illegal to discriminate between genders. But he lost both in the Faroese Court in 2011 and in the Eastern High Court – one of Denmark’s two high courts – in 2012.

In 2014, another parental leave case caught the media’s attention.

“Anne Mette makes history,” wrote one of the Faroe Islands’ biggest news sites,, on 25 January that year. Anne Mette Greve Klemensen became the first priest in the Faroe Islands to take parental leave. The news site also announced the start and end date of her leave.

The parental leave system "ought to change" 

Eight years later, many stories are still being written about the Faroese parental leave system. A common theme seems to be that it does not work as it should and it ought to change. This is what á Rógvi argued back in 2009, and it is what many believe today.

Yet there is a long way from 25,000 to 45,000 kroner – especially when you consider that the last time the ceiling was raised was in 2004. At that time, 18 years ago, the ceiling was 35,000 kroner a month – 10,000 kroner more than today.

It seems very likely that the ceiling will be raised by 2,000 kroner, as Rasmussen has proposed. He is part of the same government that extended the parental leave period by four weeks. But as opposition politician Ruth Vang from Progress pointed out: 

“It is all good and well that we have extended parental leave by four weeks. But the longer the leave is, and with the pay ceiling being so low, the longer families must live with a cut to their income."

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