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Maneka Gandhi’s comment on the father’s role in parenting, shows how leaders perpetrate sexist norms. Here’s why the government should consider more paternity leave in India.
India’s women and child development minister, Maneka Gandhi, recently made a controversial statement about paternity leave which leaves a lot of questions in our minds. After her commendable efforts to increase maternity leave in India from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, there had been an increasing demand for paternity leave as well. However, Ms. Gandhi seems to have little faith in the father’s role, in the parenting of a young child.
In an interview, with ‘The Indian Express’, she stated: “Paternity leave can be considered only if, once the woman goes back to work after her 26 weeks of leave, we find that men are availing their sick leave for a month to take care of the child. Let me see how many men do that. I will be happy to give it but for a man, it will be just a holiday, he won’t do anything.”
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This statement leaves several questions in our minds, which we wish Ms. Gandhi addresses some day:
Should our leaders perpetrate the prevalent sexist norms or should they clamor for a positive change in the society?
India has long been a patriarchal society where even today, most people either perpetrate or adhere to the traditional gender roles. However, the question remains whether political leaders should be the forbearers of positive changes in the society or let the inertia of traditional practices continue, no matter how unfair those are. In earlier times, a man’s role was that of the breadwinner while the woman looked after the family. However, with society’s progress, women today are stepping outside the house to earn money and share the financial burdens of the family, along with their male counterparts.
When this is being increasingly accepted in the Indian society then why can’t we question about the man’s role inside the house? While a man and woman equally toils outside the house, why should household chore and child bearing be the responsibility of the woman only? There has indeed been a shift in this mindset and in many Indian families; men tend to share responsibilities of the household duties and childcare.
Even Indian advertisements are spreading the message of how men should ‘share the load’ in the house. Though admittedly, a change in mindset of the society at large is still awaited, yet we can hope, that giving mandatory paternity leave will actually make a lot of men think, that even the government expects them to do their share for the new born child. The role of the government should be to encourage the sharing of responsibilities of childcare between both the parents, instead of unfairly expecting the mother to do all the duties by herself. As Sujata Mody, national secretary of the New Trade Union Initiative, expressed: “By mandating paternity leave, the government could recognize, for the first time, that childcare is also the responsibility of men.”
Isn’t the typical family structure changing these days?
With most Indians increasingly adopting a nuclear family structure comprising of the mother, father, and child, there might not be grandparents available to look after the new mother’s needs. In fact, there are couples who might want to raise their children without burdening their old parents with the responsibilities of a newborn. Also, what if the mother’s health becomes critical or worse still, the mother passes away, during childbirth? Doesn’t the responsibility of childcare fall on the father under those scenarios? Also, what about the single fathers who might come forward to adopt a child?
Why deprive willing fathers the joy of fatherhood?
The assumption in Ms. Gandhi’s statement, seems to be that all men are inherently unwilling to bear responsibilities towards their own children. This seems to be a gross generalization and unfair towards fathers at large. I’m sure many of us know of fathers who are equally responsible towards their children’s upbringing like the mother. There are men who also want to participate in taking hands on care of a newborn child. There are men who would like to give their partners a chance to rest while they look after the child’s needs.
Please read these accounts of some fathers to understand how paternity leave might have proven crucial for them and their families.
Should a mother not aspire for professional growth?
Finally, shared parental leave might help the mothers in rejoining the workforce which might not be possible (or might be delayed), otherwise.
According to Ellina Samantroy, a sociologist and faculty member at the VV Giri National Labour Institute, “We are going through a phase when the labour participation of women is reducing….Shared parental leave for fathers and mothers is important to increase the representation of women in the workforce and also ensure equal opportunities for both genders.”
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I do agree wholly with you Kasturi. Shared parental leave is a must. The old practise of packing off a woman to her mother’s house for a delivery was very damaging to the sense of responsibility/bonding and shared parenthood couples could’ve benefitted from soon after a baby’s delivery. The complete ignorance about the trials of early parenthood is also the reason in my opinion, for many traditional Indian married men not taking a more active role in contraception and family planning. The first few weeks and couple of months after a baby is born, are simultaneously backbreaking and emotionally rewarding. Couples who responsibly face the challenges of this phase together, understand each other better and appreciate the trials and triumphs of the parenting role better. It is important that this phase has the dual participation and support of both parents. If we insist on infantilizing the Indian male as being not up to the task of contraception, parenting, sharing the load, sacrificing etc we are only further perpetuating the patriarchal stereotype that squarely goes against the female, actualisation of the goal of equality between the sexes. Maternity and Paternity leave should be granted simultaneously so parenthood is shared equally and responsibly.
Sonia, you’ve summed it up so eloquently. We can only hope for changes in mindsets by putting forward our views and asking them to ponder upon the same.
Wonderful.. I wish my husband had a few more days of leave to enjoy our parenthood. It is not a week’s job to bond with the child. Kudos to the article.
Thank you, Shilpee. Yes, a week is definitely not enough and it’s high time our lawmakers understand the same.
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