Bringing up father

In Hindustan Times, I argue for the need fathers to take a far more meaningful role in bringing up their children by taking paternity leave. 

It was after his son Viggo was born that Swedish photographer, Johan Bavman, then on parental leave, began looking for information about stay-at-home-dads. He found nothing. What he did find was a study that asked children who they turned to when they needed to be comforted. Their mums, said the children. Dads came at fifth place — below the option of not going to anyone at all.

Sweden has among the world’s most generous parental leave policies — 480 days with 90 days earmarked for each parent, and the balance of 300 days to be worked out between the parents. Yet, says Bavman, who took nine months off for Viggo, only 14% of Sweden’s fathers choose to equally share parental leave.

In India to inaugurate his photo project on Swedish dads, already exhibited in 50 countries and now in India along with portraits of Indian dads, Bavman said: “I wanted to find out why these fathers had chosen to stay at home; what it had done for them and their relationship with their partners and children.”

There is no country — not even Sweden, which claims to have the world’s “first feminist government” — where men and women equally share chores like cooking, cleaning and caring for children and the elderly. In India, found a July 2018 International Labour Organization (ILO) report on care work, the gap is nearly four hours with men spending just 31 minutes a day on this work.

All women work. Not all work is paid for. Quite obviously, the more time a woman spends on unpaid care work, the less she has for paid employment.

When women become mothers, employment becomes even more tough to negotiate. A 2017 World Bank paper by Maitreyi Bordia Das and Leva Zumbyte found a nearly 10% gap in India between women who have no children and those who have at least one below the age of six.

Social assumptions about Noble Mothers who sacrifice careers for their children are deeply ingrained. Often stereotypes about a woman’s role and function within the family are reinforced by government initiatives. The LPG subsidy scheme, for instance, shows only women cooking. And while the government’s move to increase paid maternity leave to six months can only be welcomed, what does it tell us as a society about the responsibility and role of new fathers?

One way to challenge gender roles is to engage with boys, says Abhijit Das, director, Centre for Health and Social Justice. “You have to change the mental map of men and their assumption that a woman’s place is in the home,” he says. Getting men to share the housework and help with bringing up the baby helps them foster closer relationships with their wives and children — challenging and changing the way masculinity is traditionally seen.

Taking extended leave when their babies were born, says Bavman, made men better partners and dads. “It was an important step on the way towards a more equal society.”

Read the column in Hindustan Times here


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