LAUSANNE — The idea that young people nowadays are more conservative than previous generations is a common cliché. Girls are said to be dreaming of becoming housewives while boys supposedly behave like old-style alpha-males, reproductive and career-obsessed.
As Switzerland is about to vote on an initiative that aims to use tax breaks to benefit a traditional family model, Le Temps asked a group of young people how they see gender and work roles.
These are students from Lausanne"s business school, aged 19 to 26. We chose this sector of the population because it is cut from the majority of the Swiss population. In May, their part-time training (which they do two days a week) will be over and they will be set to join the workforce, full-time.
Their answers to our first question reinforce the common preconception: "Who thinks that a woman should stay at home to raise the children?" we ask. Almost without hesitation, 10 out of 17 raise their hand. "That's how I was brought up. My mom was at home to take care of us," says Mafalda. "A mother is a role model. She passes on her values to us." After a quick survey, it appears that almost every student of this class was raised by a stay-at-home mother.
"I think it's a good thing," reckons Stefania. "Besides, what's the point in having children if it's only to drop them at daycare every morning at 7, and only see them in the evenings and at the weekends. I'm not saying one must stop working for 10 years, but it's important to be there when the child is still little."
Monica is the only girl who disagrees. "My mother stayed at home too. But I can't picture myself stopping work completely. It's important for mental stability to do other things than just change diapers and feed the baby. Of course, parents should also be there for their children but you can pass on your values without giving up your working life."
The debate is thus launched, and with it, our first impression has already shifted. It turns out that despite the initial show of hands, only one of the girls is considering stopping work altogether when she has a baby. For the rest of them, keeping one foot in the workplace is mostly a way "not to find yourself outdated after 20 years without a job, once the children have left home."
Father, where are you?
What do future dads have to say? And what if they were the ones to set their careers aside? Arthan is not opposed to the idea. "But in the workplace, mentalities still haven't changed," he explains. "We send our applications to employers who think that it's bad for a man to stop working for a few years for his kids. When a woman comes back after a parental leave, it's fine. But if it's a man, it's still perceived as wrong."
Siméon thinks in practical terms: "It's also about the money. Men often earn more than women, so it's better for the family's financial security if he keeps working."
Timothée is uncertain: "It's hard to imagine what it would be like having the father staying at home. We all grew up in the traditional model in which the mother takes care of the children."
Who thinks that a man wouldn't be as good as a woman in taking care of the children? Six of them raise their hands. "Mothers have the instinct more than fathers," says Tiago.
"You know how boys are like … We're less sensitive I think …" Illir adds: "I wouldn't be able to stay at home. I believe I'll be fine just seeing the kids in the evenings. My mother, she's the one who always took care of us and she used to say that it's not always easy. Besides, children are more attached to their mothers, right?"
Thibault disagrees: "I don't think fathers are less able to do it. If my wife has a great career opportunity, I won't hesitate to reduce my working time. As soon as I have children, they will be the priority, not my career. That said, I would like to do both. As we all know, couples break up easily nowadays. If one sacrifices everything to bring up the children, the situation can be terrible when they divorce."
Maxime sums it up this way: "It seems to be that we can have children and keep working at the same time. Most people do it. We were all raised more by our mothers than our fathers. But did I feel less loved and safe with my dad? I don't think so. For our generation, I believe there is no predefined model anymore — no good or bad in absolute terms. We have to make our own choices depending on our possibilities."
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
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