3 Reasons Why Paternity Leave Is Important!

Why paternity leave is important to women and families in India? There are 3 major factors which makes the paternity leaves a requirement!

Why paternity leave is important to women and families in India? 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, paternity leave is a period of time that a father is legally allowed to be away from his job so that he can spend time with his new baby.

Long paternity leave is unheard of in most companies in our country, yet it might be the most influential factor for the continuity of women’s careers and the welfare of children.

Why paternity leave is important?

Currently, government employees can avail of up to two weeks of paternity leaves, whereas there is no such mandate for the private sector.

We have come a very long way in the last six decades in terms of laws protecting working women, and their families, following childbirth.

Current situation and a brief history of maternity break

In the earlier generation of women who had children in the eighties and nineties, the few women who worked outside their homes had as little as three months after giving birth. This forced them to return to work or take unpaid leaves to take care of the child.

I conducted a few interviews with women who worked in government jobs in the eighties and nineties. They revealed that some of them had to resort to extreme measures like taking a caretaker and their child to the office to sit beside them.

The environment at the offices was often not conducive to accommodating babies, but thankfully some of their co-workers were supportive. Others had to take long unpaid leaves, and forego due promotions till their children were at least a year old.

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A new act came into effect in 2017, increasing maternity leaves from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. While six months of maternity break is still not sufficient in most cases, it is much better than in most countries in the world.

There are government mandates on providing crèche facilities for companies with more than fifty employees, but the availability of seats for children is a fight, in a lot of the metro cities.

The plight of couples and the fourth trimester of pregnancy

Most parents know this. Research shows that human babies are born three months too early. A fourth trimester of pregnancy happens after the child is born.

During this time, major changes occur in the child in terms of development, as they adjust to the environment outside the mother’s womb. It is a constant cycle of holding, feeding, changing, and rocking them to sleep.

With this level of attention needed by the child, it is extremely hard for the new mothers to balance the child’s demands and take care of her own post-partum needs. Even though in most cases the grandparents come to help out, the mothers need their partners’ support more than ever.

Having a child is an emotional roller coaster, and couples who get equally involved emerge stronger as a couple and family in the long run. Whether a woman has been working outside the home or not, support from fathers is essential in the early life of a baby.

Unfortunately, many fathers can’t get as involved as they would like to because of a lack of leaves and empathy at their workplace. Men getting too involved in those early days and taking annual leaves are often frowned upon and made fun of within peer groups.

It takes a village to raise a child, but the village is shrinking

Till a few decades ago, most new parents had much more support in child-rearing.

A lot of people lived in big, joint families where children grew up not just with their parents but with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

Even for nuclear families where the parents lived in faraway places, grandparents often came and stayed with new parents for months if not years to help the couple raise young children. The grandparents were often youngish, as they had kids quite early on in their lives.

Fast-forward to our current times, and we see more and more nuclear families in big cities who have migrated for work opportunities. A lot of families have ageing grandparents. Even though the grandparents’ love is as strong as ever, it would be selfish of parents to expect them to take care of young children.

Families who can afford, do hire nannies but due to trust and safety concerns of babies, supervision by family members becomes essential.

The joint family structure is broken with many socio-economic changes, and the perks and downsides of the structure are gone. With new parents often having few siblings living in far-flung places or no siblings at all, the cousins of the baby are also few.

What the new-age parents are faced with is a shrunk village to raise their child. This is where paternity leaves become all the more important.

Lack of formal paternity leaves and underlying assumptions

As a country and society, let us investigate, for a moment, the reason behind the lack of substantial paternity leaves.

Despite the activism to increase maternity leaves and having laws to protect women’s needs, there is a lack of onus on sharing the responsibility of childcare between men and women. The underlying assumption is still that raising children is primarily a woman’s job.

The involvement of men is merely a choice. In the process, working women often take long breaks from work or give up their careers altogether, in most cases not by choice. For stay-at-home mothers, babies often become solely their responsibility at a time when they need a lot of care and support.

Some companies in the private sector have started to give paternity leaves of one to three months. Such companies are still small, and the policies are discretionary. One of the concerns I have heard from a few women is that even if their husbands get paternity leaves, they would not contribute much to childcare.

It is a possibility in some cases, given the patriarchal setup we live in, the majority of new fathers could still contribute in some way and form. Change doesn’t happen in one day, but laying down the opportunity for change to happen is the first step.

Countries with high human development indexes, and gender equality like Sweden, and Finland have up to eight months of paternity leaves, some of which are transferable between the mother and father if both were working.

This allows the couple to plan their childcare needs and careers with much flexibility. In a lot of cases, mothers go back to work after a certain period and fathers start part of their leaves from that time. Policies like these also promote gender equality and more opportunities for children to bond with their fathers.

The need to rally and bring about change

For families to function better and for shared responsibilities, we, as a society, need long paternity leaves to be mandated for both the government and private sector.

We need to raise awareness about this issue in forums, corporate events, and policymaking boards of our country and explore how it supports women, men, and their families. To foster a more egalitarian, gender-neutral world, paternity leave would be a big leap forward.

Image source: Miachel Jung via Getty Imgaes, free and edited on CanvaPro

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About the Author

Sayani De

Sayani has been fascinated with traveling, yoga, words, and books since childhood. She is a feminist and sustainability enthusiast. She started writing poetry and fiction at the age of ten. Her curiosity for cultures, the read more...

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