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Is Paternity leave a social stigma?

When parenting is the responsibility of both the mother and the father, then why is Paternity leave not acknowledged equally as maternity leave?

Parenting is the responsibility of both the mother and the father. The presence of the father at the birth of the child makes him understand the sensitive needs of the new-born baby. This attachment makes him more helpful towards his wife and makes him a better and an affectionate father too.

Though many men are reluctant to take it, paternity leave has many enduring benefits such as an improved relationship between mother and father, a stronger father-child bond. Furthermore, men who take leave often do more child care not just during their time off but throughout the child's lifetime. And strong father-child engagement is linked to high cognitive development in the child, and fewer behavioural problems. But then!

- Why is Paternity leave not acknowledged equally as maternity leave?

- Why is this gender bias not taken into consideration in any organizations?

- How does one combat with the social stigma around it?

I recently met a friend who narrated that - When his son was born a year ago, he took a month of unpaid leave to help take care of his baby while his wife finished her law school says Raghav, working in an IT firm. A two-month leave is considered lengthy by Indian standards, and unheard of in the male-dominated blue-collar rock quarry industry.

Although 15 days are allowed by law, his boss found the two month leave so lengthy that his co-workers were taken aback. "Who stays at home for so long. What could you possibly be doing having a new born, isn’t it the mothers job?" his boss said, eyebrow raised. "I'm sure your wife can handle it," said a co-worker. They imagined that while he was away, he would be glued to the couch, watching T.V. In no way would he actually be helping his wife.

“I wish I could say my mistreatment at work was an anomaly, but many studies find that the stigmatization of devoted fathers who work is relatively normal’, If I had returned to work after two weeks, as most men do, we probably would have turned to formula. And my wife's postpartum depression and anxiety would have been left to bloom. Furthermore, my strong bond with our daughter ensured that I could lead the nightly bedtime ritual when I got home from work, which was a huge relief to my wife and a wonderful joy for both me and my daughter. I wouldn't take my experience with my wife and daughter back for the world, but when I returned to work, my co-workers, all men, derided me, accusing me of shirking work for a relaxing vacation as though being at home taking care of my wife and daughter wasn't work.” Says Raghav.

In India, people started talking about paternity leave almost a decade ago. However, not many are aware that the central government has a mandated paternity leave policy that provides leave for a central government employee for a period of 15 days so that he can take care of his wife and the new-born. This leave can be taken only when the father has less than two surviving children and he can avail the leave of 15 days before or within 6 months from the date of birth of the child.

If the father does not avail paternity leave within that period, it will be considered as lapsed. He will be paid the leave salary equal to what he draws before taking the leave. The law gives this provision in the case of adoption as well. This leave is authorized for government employees in India and there is no law that instructs the private sector to make it compulsory. It is open to interpretation by companies individually, although several private companies have their own paternal leave policies in place.

"The absence of paternity leave is reflective of a stereotype that child care is the sole responsibility of the mother. An effective policy outlining paternity leave will be instrumental in bringing about a change in attitude and bridge gender divide in matters of child care" writes Mr. Rajeev Satav M.P., Lok Sabha

However, many men do not take paternity leave because they fear hurting their career, sacrificing income and a strong work ethic. This is keeping them away from their new-borns. They are not ready to take an extended time off from their work to spend with the new-born.

Paternity leave policies could possibly combat this stigma as research shows that when a male employee avails paternity leave his male co-workers are 11% more likely to follow suit. Millennial leader Mark Zuckerberg is a workaholic but does not falter when it comes to familial responsibilities.  His decision to go on a two-month paternity leave could possibly pave a way for more generous parental policies in organizations worldwide.

Our culture should affirm this level of devotion rather than disparage it, and to do that, we need to make taking leave an accessible choice for all parents - mothers and fathers, working poor and middle class. Also, to ensure the employee’s reputation needn't be sullied for wanting to cultivate a lasting bond with our new baby.


(The author is an Early Child Care Consultant & Vice-Chairperson, Rayz International Preschool, Noida)

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