Autonomy and Equality in the Context of Parental Labour Rights

A Legal Gender Studies Approach to Mandatory Parental Leave Policies

  • Maria Sagmeister University of Vienna
Keywords: Autonomy, Equality, Maternity Leave, Parental Leave, Paternal Leave, Care Work, Work/Family Conflict, Legal Philosophy, Legal Gender Studies, Employment Protection, Labour Law History


Based on the presentation of the historical genesis of maternity protection as a gender-specific employment right, this article outlines the establishment of gender-neutral parental rights. The depiction of the legal developments is embedded in theoretical reflections on the concepts of equality and autonomy. Subsequently, the current legal situation in Austria is subjected to a critical analysis along these terms. The Austrian Maternity Protection Act provides a compulsory period of leave for mothers, while fathers and co-mothers are entitled to voluntary leave. However, the use of voluntary parental leave is strongly influenced by extra-legal constraints. Both economic compulsions and gender norms have a negative effect on the involvement of fathers in care work. The article therefore argues for an extension of mandatory parental rights to fathers and co-mothers.