Meenal* conceived her twins through IVF in Mumbai, at the age of 32. The year was 2017. Her husband, Vishal*, and she both had successful careers at MNCs. The complicated childbirth combined with the fact that they were twins, took a lot out of her, and she was recommended bed rest for at least a few weeks.
Meenal was a first time parent who had left her hometown, Jamshedpur for better job prospects. Her husband Vishal, was allowed a leave of maximum 5 days, before he had to return to work. Meenal quit her job to take care of her children full time. She found freelance work, but could only make a fraction of her previous salary.
What Is Paternity Leave?
This scenario seems hardly out of place. We all know a Meenal or a Vishal. In a country like India, where migration to larger cities is increasing rapidly and nuclear families are becoming the norm, the gaping lack of provisions for having two caretakers for an infant is quickly becoming evident.
Across the world there is a rising voice, united in its goal to encourage men to contribute to the household. While sharing the load on cooking and cleaning are part of it, being more involved in bringing up children is pivotal.So, what is paternity leave?
The Cambridge dictionary defines paternity leave as ‘a period of time that a father is legally allowed to be away from his job so that he can spend time with his new born baby’. The aim of this leave is to allow for the care-giving responsibility of the child to be shared with the mother.
The Need for Paternity Leave
In 1974, Sweden was the first country to introduce the concept of paternity leave as a law. The aim was to encourage both parents to participate in caregiving for infants, which has been historically considered the woman’s responsibility. Over four decades have passed, and there has been little progress in making this law enforceable worldwide, as well as adapting to changing family dynamics.
Take India for instance. In March 2017, the Indian government increased the duration of paid maternity leave available for women employees, from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. With this, India became the country with the third highest maternity leave. Fathers, on the other hand, can avail only 15 days of paternity leave (as per the central government regulations). With the responsibility of taking care of the new born, 15 days barely amounts for much, and benefits no one.
The parity between the increasing maternity leave and discouragement of the paternity leave clearly puts the entire responsibility of the child on the Indian mother.
Maternity leave policies without paternity leave, inadvertently make for a ‘primary-caregiver’ policy. Such policies reflect the assumption that families will have one caregiver, supported by a partner with few, or no, care-giving responsibilities. It’s the old-fashioned homemaker-breadwinner model, wrapped in the veneer of gender equality. This also adversely affects the mother’s career graph.
Benefits of Paternity Leave
Due to the law, companies hesitate to hire women of a certain age to avoid the responsibility of giving an employee extended paid leave. With women now contributing to 36 percent of India’s GDP and this number steadily rising, it is an unfair penalisation.
Staying in Germany when having our daughter, was a much better experience compared to our peers having kids in India, where dads are not entitled to any leaves. We split the duties evenly; from feeding, cleaning bottles, changing, doing laundry to putting her to sleep and keeping her entertained. By sharing duties, one of us is still able to do other non-baby related duties such as cleaning, dishes, and laundry.Egalitarian Indian-Origin Mom, 31, mother of an infant girl
A study by the University of Oslo found that paternity leave improved children’s learning abilities. Kids in secondary school, especially girls, seemed to flourish if their dads had taken time off.
How Postpartum Depression Affects Many Women
The most significant impact of paternity leave is on the mother. Women often go through a postpartum period after giving birth, which continues till around the first six weeks after childbirth. This is an overwhelming and stressful time, a period of adjustment and healing for mothers.
Insomnia, intermittent bleeding and depression are only a few examples of problems that women face during this period. Having a partner by your side during this time makes an incredible difference especially by ensuring that the emotional labour too is shared between both partners.
How Paternity Leave Positively Impacts Women’s Careers & Lives
There is also a positive correlation between paternity leave and women’s careers. Some researches show that motherhood is the key reason for the gender pay gap. It damages their future earnings prospects.
Sometimes it makes them more likely to leave the labour force altogether. Women already face a lot more hurdles than men at the workplace; paternity leave would help reduce discrimination against hiring women of child-bearing age. So, where do we go from here?
Currently, India has no legal provision for paternity leave. The Paternity Benefit Bill introduced in Lok Sabha in 2017 asks for a mere 15 days leave provision. This is just a drop in the ocean; more formality than function.
A handful of international private sector organisations that prioritise the welfare of their employees have started offering fathers paternity leave. UNICEF recently increased its paid paternity leave from 4 weeks to 16 weeks worldwide. Facebook and Deloitte offer 17 weeks and 16 weeks respectively. Microsoft too has made it compulsory for their contractors to offer 12 weeks of paid paternity leave.
These form a great pathway that we can learn from. Paid paternity leave should begin at 10-12 weeks. This period will help the mother recover faster and better.
Flexible leave arrangements are also catching up in cases where parents are unwilling to stop work completely. Part-time leaves can allow them to stay gainfully employed and to also tend to their children. This also helps minimise the financial impact of the leave on the family.
For years the priority for women’s right campaigners has been to increase the provision of maternity leave. Now, there is a growing belief that the best way to improve the effect of childbirth on women’s careers and health is to turn to the Dads.
(*Names changed to protect identity)
(This article was first published on Women's Web. The author is a public policy researcher and entrepreneur, who is working towards gender equality through research. He is the co-founder of 'Hiccup', which makes menstrual cups. He can be reached at @NavJbhullar. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)