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Paternity Benefit Leave Is The First Step To Teach Children Gender Equality

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Our society is bifurcated on the basis of sexual division of labour. We tend to view the world through the prism of gender binaries. Certain tasks are considered to be women’s, and certain others are considered to be men’s. Taking care of the home, cooking, cleaning, caring for ageing parents (often the men’s), looking after the kids (often referred to as belonging to the men – not women) are viewed as duties to be fulfilled by women. Men, on the other hand, are tasked with being breadwinners of the family.

Men go out and earn a living and women stay at home and provide care. In a society with such gender-specific division of labour, the task of raising children falls entirely on the shoulders of women. Men, they say, have little to contribute to the daunting chore of caring for a newborn. Take a look at the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) interactive map of the world that shows the duration of maternity leaves in different parts of the world.

One glance at the map is enough to know that most countries provide expecting mothers a few weeks to recuperate from childbirth and time to bond with and care for the newborn. However, take a look at ILO’s map that shows the duration of the paternity leaves in different parts of the world.

In this case, one glance is enough to know that maximum countries in the world, including India, do not provide adequate paternity leaves. This statistic is not surprising because such gendered notions of the division of labour have been driving public policy for generations.

“The sexual division of labour has serious implications for the role of women as citizens, because every woman’s horizons are limited by these supposedly primary responsibilities,” writes Nivedita Menon in her book ‘Seeing Like a Feminist.’

She further adds, “Whether in their choice of career, or their ability to participate in politics, women learn to limit their ambitions. This self-limitation is what produces the glass ceiling; or the mommy track, the slower career track upwards, while women put aside some of the most productive years of their lives to look after children.”

All this while, it is conveniently forgotten that child-rearing is the responsibility of both the parents – the mother and the father. Since women’s labour is largely unpaid, it has harboured a notion that women’s work is less valuable than men’s work which results in wage discrimination (meaning women are paid less as compared to men for the same kind of work). However, less wages for women also means less income for the family. This means that there is more pressure on men to earn more and more panic for the household if the man loses his job. There is also more pressure on men not to take career breaks, no matter how desperately they want it. This is mainly because they are considered as the sole breadwinners of the household. Gendered notions of labour are profoundly detrimental not just to women but men as well.

They result in ridicule for men who do take career breaks for their newborns or any other reason, while their wives take over the role of a breadwinner in the household.

In its study titled, Maternity and Paternity at Work, the ILO states that ‘Research suggests that fathers’ leave, men’s take-up of family responsibilities, and child development are related’. Fathers who take leave, especially those taking two weeks or more immediately after childbirth, are more likely to be involved with their young children. This is likely to have positive effects on gender equality at home, which is the foundation of gender equality at work.

Drawing fathers into the daily realities of childcare, free of workplace constraints, extended time-off (immediately after the birth) provides the space necessary for fathers to develop the parenting skills and sense of responsibility, This, in turn, allows them to be active co-parents rather than helpers to their female partners. This shift from a manager-helper dynamic to that of co-parenting creates the opportunity for the development of a more gender-equitable division of labour.

So, in a society where these gender-assigned duties are being challenged on an everyday basis and where the word gender itself is being redefined, it is important that legislation catch up.

Rajeev Satav, Shiv Sena MP from Hingoli in Maharashtra, has recently introduced a Private Member’s Bill, named the Paternity Benefits Bill, in the Parliament. The Bill hopes to introduce legislation that makes it mandatory for the public and private sectors to provide paternity leaves to expecting fathers.

The benefits of such a policy are manifold. It will help bring about a shift in the notions of gender-assigned labour by challenging the assumption that childcare is exclusively a woman’s job. Apart from helping somewhat to retain an ever declining female workforce, it will also give men a chance to bond with their newborns. Innumerable studies have proven the positive effects of an early father-child bonding experience, which can be facilitated through such a leave policy.

Of course, ensuring availability of paid paternity leaves is not going to be enough since the culture of fathers taking up the responsibilities of child-rearing and stepping up to undertake parenting duties is largely non-existent. One can almost forgive Maneka Gandhi’s scepticism when she declared that paid paternity leaves would only mean additional vacation time for fathers. Attitude adjustment in the cultural norms of Indian society is urgently required. Men, too, need to join women in demanding paternity leaves. It would go a long way in supporting their spouses’ careers and will help level out somewhat the discrimination that women face in the workplace.

Passing the bill is important because it paves the way towards a policy-based approach towards resolving society’s discriminatory attitude towards women. Behavioural changes in society do not happen automatically. They happen slowly, gradually through community-based action and governmental reforms. This bill is taking a step forward and starting a much-needed conversation about the roles of men and women in society. And by starting this conversation, we can finally start addressing the stereotypical notions that surround women’s and for that matter men’s labour in society.

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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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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