Speaking to The Indian Express, Maneka said, “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.”
I am appalled by the minster’s statement. There are men, and men, and men.
In an extended family set up, where there are other people who can help with the child, or with the mother – i can still imagine what she saying to be true (not really, but i am willing to give her the benefit of doubt). But, in nuclear families, and much of employed India is moving there, new fathers are increasingly playing a role in the nurturing of their new born, bonding with it, helping his wife – who is recovering from the delivery, and so on.
Many moons ago, my father did everything except ‘breast feed us’ (my mother’s words, not mine). I have seen my male friends and cousins do much the same – be doting fathers, cooing over their kids, fussing over their wives/partners, run around and do chores, open the door when the bell rings incessantly, and more. My driver, took time off when his kids were born, to help around the house. I have seen men across socio-economic groups do this. For a man to bond with his family, is important. Part of it is work. the other part is empathy, and sharing, caring. If the minister wants to build a more gender equal society, she needs to throw her weight behind paternity leave.
I think men will be better fathers, if they bond with the new born at a younger age. Better husbands, by looking after their spouses in the post recovery time. Be all round better people, if given the time off to be so. I would rather not have men lie about sick leave for this, but take something that is owed to them as right.
To write off all men as those who will treat “paternity leave” as holiday, is the same kind of gender stereotyping women have been fighting against. As a feminist, as someone who supports gender rights – i can’t but support the right the of the father to bond with his family.
Maybe, the Minister can use her good offices and get TV shows, and ad producers to create positive messages around a new father. And, how he dotes on his new born (and most do). Rather, than write off all fathers are lying layabouts.