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Paternity leave is the right of men, and a great step towards gender equality. In fact, a better idea is shared parental leave.
If women are to advance in male dominated fields, then men should be given a chance to share in the roles that have been traditionally dumped on women.
I was reading a blog post that mentioned that women find it difficult to break the news about pregnancy in the workplace. The post said, women worry about people thinking “Oh there she goes on a long paid vacation of 4 months, wish we could get that”.
But that got me wondering. Why do men not get paternity leave? After all, the father is just as much responsible for the baby as the mother. So why should the work place expect only moms to take on all the baby care duties? It seems unfair to both moms and dads.
Since 1955, government jobs in India provide for 15 days of paternity leave, though this does not apply to the private sector. However this is not the kind of paternity leave I am talking about.
Apart from physical and emotional recovery post delivery, there is no reason to believe that the mother needs more leave than the father. How a couple shares their baby care responsibilities is for the couple to decide based on their circumstances.
The idea behind SPL is that, the total maternity leave is shared between the parents as per their convenience, in the first few months after the baby is born.
Breast feeding is about the only baby care duty a father cannot perform as well as a mother. Exclusive breast feeding is recommended for at least the first 6 months. So that is why maternity leave in many places has been extended from 3 to 6 months.
However today there are a number of breast pumping devices and safe ways to store breast milk for short periods. So this is not a real hurdle for those couples that would prefer to split their parental duties.
Women face many problems as a side effect of maternity leave that can be eliminated by having SPL.
There can never be equality in the workplace unless there is also equality at home. To close the gender pay gap and break the glass ceilings, it is important for society to encourage men to undertake a greater share of household responsibilities. This is never going to be possible with gender biased policies like only maternity leave instead of SPL.
That is not to say that the work place should decide how a particular couple splits their SPL. Some couples may choose to use it entirely for the woman and others entirely for the man and many more, to split it in whatever way suits them. Some may choose to use all of it at once and others may choose to have the woman take the first month off and the man the next and then again the woman and so on.
This kind of flexibility will help both men and women find a good work-life balance and have successful careers along with happy family lives.
Shared parental leave has been implemented effectively in some countries. It does require some additional paperwork for co-ordination between companies, and many details need to be worked out for smooth implementation, and probably some governmental interference, but is a worth a try. Norway has gone so far as to incentivize paternal leave to encourage men to undertake baby care duties.
However, in most countries, men taking parental leave is quite limited. Some men worry about how it will affect their careers and others worry about how it is perceived. According to this article though, parental leave for men, is slowly becoming more acceptable. In India, most men may not avail of it to start with, but social change takes time. But one must begin somewhere and the option of SPL is a good place to start.
If respected and reputable organizations show that they expect men to play a significant role child rearing, it will go a long way in bringing about the required social change.
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Kanika G, a physicist by training and a mother of 2 girls, started writing to
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