By Abhishek Desai:
In July 2017, Rajeev Satav, Member of Parliament from Hingoli in Maharashtra, introduced the Paternity Benefit Bill, 2017 in Lok Sabha. The bill would allow fathers up to three months of paid paternity leave and aims to “fix many problems” in the Maternity Benefit Act. But would such a bill be of any use, do we even need it? Yes, the bill has the potential to make a shift, and here are four reasons why we need it urgently:
From pink dolls for girls to blue cars for boys, we see gender roles constantly being reinforced in our everyday life since birth. The most glaring example of this is when mothers are expected to take care of the child, and fathers are expected to work. This happens more so, when the father cannot get a leave to look after the child, and child-rearing is assumed to be default the mother’s duty. This reinforces gender roles in our society, but also to the child who sees this as the norm, growing up. Having a paternity bill that grants men leave to spend time with their newborn child, and divide the duties of child-rearing, will be a step towards stopping such stereotypical gender roles from being reiterated.
With the maternity bill making it legally binding to give women a maternity leave, and an absence of such a provision for men to take off, it is an unfair playing field in the interview room. Female candidates are known to face a bias during the hiring process, and the lack of a paternity leave provision amplifies that. With a paternity leave provision in place, it will level the field for both men and women, as companies would be required to give offs to either of the candidates they hire.
Participation of women in the workforce in India is declining at an alarming rate, so much so that India ranks 120th among 131 nations, one of the lowest in female participation in the workforce, according to a 2017 World Bank report. This isn’t new, as the country’s female workforce participation rate has been considerably declining over the years, as 2018 Economic Survey states, from 36% in 2005-2006 to 24% 2015-2016.
Among a variety of reasons, like taking permission for work, attitudes towards working women, sexual harassment, safety, and discrimination, motherhood is a glaring one for women quitting jobs. In India, motherhood is considered to be something that women have to put before their own needs, mainly employment. Lack of a paternity leave provision means the burden of childcare duties entirely lays on the woman, and it often results in giving up work. A provision that allows men to also get time off work to involve themselves in dividing parental duties, will mean women maybe do not have to quit their jobs and drop from the workforce anymore. This can help bring about a shift in the ever-declining female workforce participation rate.
The benefits of having a paternity leave can go beyond breaking gender stereotypes and women not dropping from the workforce. 2 in 3 infants live in countries where dads are not entitled to a single day of paid paternity leave, according to a new June 2018 analysis by UNICEF. It also states that according to evidence “when fathers bond with their babies from the beginning of life, they are more likely to play a more active role in their child’s development.” Having a policy or provision like this in India which allows fathers to take time off to spend with their infants, will increase the chances of a meaningful relationship of the child with both parents.
Gender stereotypes, declining participation of women in the workforce, discrimination in the interview room and parent-child relationship are all complex issues. They require a collective effort from citizens and the government in various different spheres, changes in attitudes, approach and outlook, than just passing bills. However, having a provision that will allow men to take off to participate in childcare can pave the way in that direction.
The author is the Communications Manager at Haiyya, and takes a deep interest in issues of gender equity, equal rights, and sexuality. Haiyya is a grassroots campaigning and consulting organization working with young leaders, campaigners, and impact-driven organizations. Haiyya is focused towards building leadership among youth to work for progressive change around social and political issues. Haiyya is inspired by the ‘community organizing’ framework developed by Professor Marshall Ganz from Harvard Kennedy School.