Dad's the word

Dad's the word

The passage of the bill that enhanced the maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks for women in India has raised some pertinent questions.

While the bill is being hailed as a progressive and much-needed piece of legislation, there is a doubt about whether it reaffirms the role of the woman as the primary caregiver and does not focus on the share of men in child-rearing. And it has brought to the fore the demand for a uniform ‘paternity leave’ policy in the country.

While the central government has a mandated paternity leave policy that provides leave for an employee for a period of 15 days, private companies have no such
compulsion. “Most urban men want paternity leave because the initial months is when you form a bond with the baby,” says Mahesh Raman, father of four-month-old Mohith. “But most companies do not seem to recognise this need.

Some of them give a week or less which will only suffice for finishing up the chores that new fathers have. There is not much time to spend with the mother and the baby.”

Talking about how the role of men in bringing up a child is discounted, Anivesh Shandilya, an MNC professional says, “The role of a mother is undoubtedly right at the top but dads are important too, especially in the initial couple of days or during the first few months of pregnancy when a woman has many emotional changes and needs her husband by her side.”

Talking about his personal experience, Anivesh elaborates, “By the time I came to know that we were going to have a baby, I had availed a few of my holidays for the year. But after that, I started saving my holidays because I knew I would need them to be beside my wife and my newborn. It did take a toll on me and my stress levels went up but I knew that the one week I was getting will not be enough.”

New dads still might not take all their time off because of the cultural stigma and fear of losing out on job opportunities. But in the absence of paternity leave, both genders will remain stuck in preconceived notions of what their role in society should be like.

A few model countries are showing the way ahead in this regard. In countries like Sweden and Norway, up to a year of paid leave is provided by companies upon child birth. And the best part is that this leave can be split between the partners who are co-parenting the child. However in a patriarchal society like ours, a shift in mindsets is imperative before progressive laws like this are introduced.

“People are giving the concept of paternity leave a lot more thought but a little more sensitivity and sensitisation is needed before such a policy is introduced,” says Shishir Shetty, Business head, Reachall.

“Even 15 days would be great for a start. A uniform policy will also help people realise that this is something I have to do and companies will adhere to it. If there is no push from the government, then it becomes the employer’s prerogative. But a lot of things have to change before something like this can become successful.”

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