Discrimination against men? That too, dads? Is it possible? In a family-oriented country like India?
Well, it is. We just don’t happen to notice it. Here’s an account of it:
One morning, I was casually talking to a fellow colleague who had just returned from his paternal leave,
“How is your baby doing?”
“She’s great!” “I wish I got more time with her.”
“Why? Is your wife gone to visit her parents?”
“No, but with this office and late hours, I don’t get to spend time with my baby much.”
“Oh!” and then followed a long pause which turned into a muted cry for help.
I asked, “Can’t you extend your parental leave? I mean, you must be having annual leaves too!”
“Yes, but I’m saving them for our first vacation together. We planned to take one once the baby turned 8 months.”
“Nice!” and again the same long pause.
We went back to doing our work but I couldn’t shrug off that uneasy feeling in his voice.
A few months later, I asked him how they’re doing as new parents. His reply shook me, “My wife complains that I don’t help with the baby. I’m so tired by the time I reach home that I just can’t. They say, that baby’s smile magically blows away all tiredness, but that’s only on some special days. And those days, I prefer to spend playing with my daughter, rather than help my wife. She, my daughter, is no mistake. I know it. But sometimes, I feel it is.”
“No, absolutely not. What makes you think that it’s a mistake?”
“Because…I don’t know. I think, we’re growing apart. We have a maid to take care of the house, but it’s not like it used to be.”
“Things will fall into place.”
We had a long conversation that day. It takes a really sensitive and strong man to be able to express so openly and I admire that about him.
The truth is undeniable
- They both love their work, each other, and their child. But despite all the planning, there’s discontent in both the partners/parents.
- Something that was supposed to bring them closer is creating a divide between them. Instead of the joy, they’re feeling penalised for graduating from partners to parents.
It’s the story of every household –
as soon as the baby arrives, the gender roles kick in.
The perks are there for both and so are the losses. But they are different for each, and so, that connection, that empathy and respect for each other’s role and responsibilities are lost.
So, what are their options, rather his options:
- Take that annual leave of 15 days and spend with his child: Good, but that deprives the wife of her annual relaxation break that she’s been waiting for since the day they planned their baby. Besides, 15 days are not enough to bond with your child.
- Go for an unpaid leave: Good, but that would mean less income at a time when family demands are increasing.
- Leave the job and restart with a new one later: Worse. Same issue as above. But that’s how most women do these days when maternity leaves are insufficient or when they are forced out on grounds of incompetence (as a working mother).
- Request a longer paid paternal leave: Great, but there’s no policy like that.
Can we have a policy like that?
One day, I asked men sitting across me straight, “Would you like to receive a 6-month paid paternal leave, like women do?”
“It would be fantastic! Who doesn’t like free paychecks?!”, they replied, “But that would pause our careers, hamper promotions, and all. You know how it is.”
Some wise person once said – Pay attention to the part that comes after ‘but’ – and I did.
They are not ready to let their career take a backseat. And they know, it will happen as it does to their women colleagues.
I don’t blame men for this. Their insecurity of getting left behind is justified as it is for women who choose not to have kids or have them very late in their life.
My question is:
Where does this leave us, India, as a family-oriented society in the world?
If we are so focused on having a family, raising kids together, why do we leave dads out of the equation? Their role is equally important.
Now, there’s also another fact that underlines this situation: Women are generally paid less than men. 24% less to be precise. (source: Business Standard)
Which means that even if fathers voluntarily opt for unpaid leave and the organisations allow it, their family incomes are going to take a hit. But, ask any father if he’d love to spend time with his kids and the answer would be yes.
Why wouldn’t they want to be as close to their child as the child is to the mother?
I’m no policy maker, but I could put forth a suggestion of my own: Equal leave for both the parents. 6 months for the mom and the next 6 for the dad. Or 3 months for the mom and the next 3 for the dad.
I’m not talking about the shared one where the partners can take the call on how to split their leaves because we know how that’s going to end. Not many organisations would support that; neither would the parents split it equally. (Because, society!)
It should be an obligatory leave for both the parents.
At the same time or one after another – should be their mutual decision. This way, no one would complain of a career standstill or missing out on the baby’s firsts. Both would enjoy parental bliss while keeping their marriage intact.
On some level, I think it would bridge the wage gap between the two genders too. Iceland did that in 2000 and is a live case study. Sweden too has done the same – a one-carer-at-a-time model of leaves along with 30 days of shared parenting.
We must understand that just like bread-winning is no longer a role limited to one gender, same is true for caregiving. Its responsibility and benefits must extend to both the parents. Hence, the Paternity Benefit Bill, 2017. (Read the draft here)
(Sorry, single parents. There’s a lot to be said about women and trans issues too. But one bite at a time.)
And if anyone is curious, many countries have done away with usage of gender terms in parental leaves by bringing in the terms like ‘primary caregiver’ and ‘secondary caregiver’.
Over to you
While people are grateful for the one-week paid paternal leave fathers receive, their world would be a different place if they got to watch their child grow up in front of their eyes. Not just the child, but their respect and their partner’s career too.
What say, fathers? Are you willing to go that extra mile? Are you ready to tell the world that your role is not limited to just a breadwinner? Are you prepared to put on the hat apron of a caregiver, be with your child and share an equally emotional bond with her as her mother does?
If yes, then start a movement. Of no discrimination against men. Let’s support this bill with as many hands and voices as possible. Men deserve as much parental bliss as mothers do.
We talk of equal rights, equal pay. Let’s raise the issue of equal love, equal care too.
Ladies, what’s your take on this? Do you think of this as discrimination? If yes, is this something you’d like to speak up about? I’d love to know your thoughts on this.