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These 5 Dads Love To Cook, Clean And Help At Home (And There’s Nothing ‘Unmanly’ About It)

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By Shambhavi Saxena

For most of us, a stay-at-home mum is just a natural fact of life. But what I want you to picture now, instead, is a stay-at-home dad. Yes, a father who packs your lunch before school. A father who picks you up from the bus-stand. A father who lays your clothes out, and combs your hair and takes your temperature and does all the stuff traditionally thought of as ‘a mother’s work.’

Stay-at-home dads are not mythic creatures, and if you’ve heard of Atul Agnihotri, you’ll know right away what I’m talking about. He’s been a stay-at-home father for the last fifteen years and his is an exceptional story indeed. But why should he be an exception to a rule? And what is this rule that governs the way men must lead their lives?

The construction of masculinity is complex, involving societal expectations, economic dimensions, modes of humiliation and conformity, and it’s these same dimensions that create a hostile attitude towards male-homemakers. The domestic sphere has been traditionally seen as a space for women, while men operate in the outside world of business, agriculture and politics. Everyone seems to have simply accepted this more or less arbitrary demarcation of space.

Well, not everyone…

The Centre for Health and Social Justice (CHSJ) documented the lives of a group of men from various communities who were part of a project intervention on engaging men to promote gender equality in Maharashtra. The project implemented by CHSJ in partnership with five local partners was supported by UNFPA. From following obsolete, binaristic views on gender, to challenging the idea that men cannot be nurturers and caregivers, these men’s stories of transformation are significant. For if violent masculinity can be learnt, it can also be unlearnt.

Sharing Work And Information

stay at home dad unfpa
Atul Kamlakar Deshmukh

An unequal division of labour has meant that men expect and receive economic remuneration for the work that they do, while women generally do not. This work women are expected to do for free – cleaning and ordering the home, child rearing, cooking, etc – is not expected of men even with pay!

This is something Malegaon’s Atul Kamlakar Deshmukh thinks must be challenged. Sitting on a stone floor, knife in hand, chopping onions, he says: “Earlier when I did chores my wife used to stop me and say that this is a woman’s job. But I explained to her that this is our work – you shouldn’t do it alone, we will do it together.” His wife too weighs in, saying: “If he went to fill water, people would tell him that it is not your job, your wife will do it… This is how the social set up was, but not now. Slowly, people are changing.”

Like Kamlakar, Dadaso Nathuram Gurav, a resident of Savardare (Pune) is happy to share child-rearing work with his wife: “This is my daughter – no one else’s,” he says, smiling at the baby on his lap, “If I can’t take out time for my daughter, then who will?”

It has long been known that evenly divided work between men and women can produce a more equitable society. Much of the economic stress that is foisted onto men, even at very young ages, is connected to our society’s expectations that women are better off at home, or ‘in the kitchen.’ By denying women economic freedoms, freedom of choice and movement, we simultaneously box men into a personhood they are not comfortable with.

But being able to share work can come only when both partners are on the same page about how a man and a woman ‘should’ be contributing to their relationship. “The doctor explained about contraceptives,” says Gurav. “The same information I shared with my wife at home.”

Becoming More Involved

father with daughter unfpa
Dadaso Nathuram Gurav

Gurav’s involvement didn’t just spike up after the birth of his child. All through his wife’s pregnancy, he accompanied her on all medical visits, relayed the doctor’s instructions, and ensured she had the right calcium and iron intake, and enough exercise too.

Just as Gurav and Kamlakar became more involved in the household and with their partners and children, one Vijay Kavhe, of Karandi (Pune) became an invaluable support system for his four sisters and even their children, saying that he wouldn’t let them feel alone. This meant helping open post office accounts and fixed deposits, and providing sanctuary from abusive in-laws. It also meant being there for his elderly mother, and helping around the house.
The ability to do any of these things, sharing work, and information and being involved, must come by evolving one’s understanding of masculinity.

Letting Go Of ‘Masculine’ Roles

“If a father is aggressive and a child embraces him and he snaps back or hits the child, then the child feels that no matter how much they love (him), the father gets angry and so the child doesn’t go to the father again and doesn’t embrace him anymore.” So says Vilas Dalvi, a resident of Shidod (Pune). Dalvi found that adhering to traditional masculinity created only resentment in his heart, and in turn in the hearts of his own children.

Dalvi’s family doesn’t fear him anymore. He has become more involved with his children, taking an interest in their lives, spending time with them and entertaining his children.

One man from Bavkarwadi shared a similar experience. “I feel that these traditional roles suffocate our lives,” says Babasahed Mane, who was also documented by CHSJ. For Mane, not having a son of his own was a source of huge disappointment and anger, anger which he often took out on his wife and only daughter. But understanding the way these traditional roles pigeonhole men and women helped him reform his attitude and actions.

Because of their personal growth and commitment, these five men were able to prove that not only are men entirely capable of being caregivers, and embodying a more involved and loving fatherhood, they also proved that it’s never too late to start.

Disclaimer: The views presented in this article are the author’s, and do not necessarily represent the views of UNFPA.

You must be to comment.
  1. Jigsaw

    Yet another sorry attemp at emasculating men by giving examples of good-for-nothing men, who have no manliness.

  2. Spider-Man

    I knew feminists were those crazy women who wanted to become men, but I didn't know they also wanted men to become women.

  3. Jigsaw

    You really think men have it easy? A man must work like a dog all day in the office, with surmounting tension, having to meet deadlines, put up with a crazy boss, suffer from office politics, then come home mentally and physically tired to take the car to the mechanic, rush to pay the electricity bill, go and buy groceries, attend the plumber, take wife shopping, then return exhausted at night after trying to provide wife with all the world's comforts to put up with her endless nagging and read articles like these.

  4. B

    If you are a girl, you don't have to earn and have the luxury of choosing to sit at home. No one will call you 'nikamma', 'nalayak', 'kaamchor', 'anaaj ka dushman' or shower you with other names. You don't face the stress of not earning enough, or have to go through the torture of being jobless. At the time of marriage, you don't get asked about your bank account, what car you drive, your house, salary, what vacation you can afford, etc. In case of a divorce, you don't have to pay alimony, child support, or part with half of your property. In short, you don't get ripped of your life savings. You don't suffer from false cases of dowry, domestic abuse and rape. You have reservations in buses, metros, colleges. Even lifeboats are reserved for you. You ask boys to leave their seats for you. You get leniency from courts for the same crimes as boys. You get away with a warning from parents and teachers while your brother and male classmates are slapped over the same mistakes. You are released first in hostage situations. I can go on forever …. feminists, count your privileges.

  5. The Joker

    Thank God for the womb, otherwise these dumb feminists would tell men to give birth.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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