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What Will A Law On Paternity Benefit Mean For Gender Equity?

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By Pauline Gomes

Sometime back, I met up with a few old friends. There was a lot of catching up to do about each other’s lives. One of them recently had a child and was sharing her experience. She told us that she was at a job interview shortly before her pregnancy, and had to answer some very personal questions. What she shared brought back memories. I had had similar interviews with questions such as – “When are you planning to get married?” and “Are you planning to have children?”

Most of my women friends and colleagues have said that one of the inevitable questions during a job interview is about their plans for marriage and children. Sometimes, the interviewer poses it apologetically and goes on to explain how the project they will be handling is on a tight deadline, and they have to be realistic about whom to hire. I wonder if men are asked these questions and what is the logic behind this?

In the case of a married female candidate, this is the question that follows right after – “Are you planning to have children, and when?” The assumption is that she will probably leave her job after having a child, which means the employers will have to go through the entire recruitment process again.

This is often the case with many women candidates applying for jobs, especially those who are of ‘marriageable age’ or are planning their pregnancy. Do men experience this and are they expected to take care of children at all?

This scenario was true even before the amendments to the Maternity Benefit Act, 2017. The increase in the duration of maternity leave is perhaps a relief for many women. It may be much needed for pre and post-partum care for the newborn and the woman. In today’s nuclear families, most often women are alone in providing child-care immediately after birth. However, what if that scenario were to change? What if she had her partner to share the responsibility for longer than 15 days after childbirth?

Most of us have been socialised into believing that it is the woman’s primary role to take care of the household, including chores, family members and children. This is irrespective of the fact that she may be working outside the home too. Often, the pressure to be the caring wife, daughter-in-law and super-mom is far more because she is working outside the home. You can see the glimpses of this reality in B. P. Dakshayani’s life. Unfortunately, this situation is still true today.

Women are expected to be the primary care providers for their children. Therefore, they are perceived as burdensome, and this tends to become a barrier to hiring women.

Therefore, I feel the amended duration of the maternity leave can only be a welcome relief! Although, doing it all by yourself can be quite tiresome and exhausting. Hence, the need for paternity leave.

Are two weeks really enough?

As MP Rajiv Satav says in his article – after childbirth he was not expected to be involved in child-care. Today, more men would like to and are beginning to participate in child-care actively. However, the challenge is our social setting and mindsets that look down upon such men and question their masculinity. Consequently, men are discouraged from doing so. Men are often ridiculed for cooking or cleaning at home- imagine taking care of children too! God-forbid if he wants to be a stay-at-home father – the ridicule and comments will know no bounds!

What about single parents? Yes, both men and women can be single parents. This means that having both the Maternity Benefit Act and the Paternity Benefit Act become necessary.

I know someone who availed of this leave and went on vacation with other male friends. His reason – “My wife does not want me around. She says that I’ll be more of a hindrance.” Perhaps, it is an indication that it is time to reflect and try not to be a hindrance. Probably his distancing himself from child-care came from the silent messages and expectations to adhere to the accepted gender norms of masculinity.

It is time that we all stop encouraging assumptions along the lines of ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘clumsiness’ in men. As well as discouraging or shaming them for participating in household chores, taking care of and spending quality time with their children. I think we ought to encourage them to start taking on more of these responsibilities.

I believe that practice makes perfect, but unless the push comes from somewhere, the practice may never begin. Thus, having a law in place that pushes men to take on more responsibilities during child-care will also encourage a change in social mindsets and encourage such practices.

While we see and hear about more women working outside their homes, their participation rate in 2017 was still as low as 28.5%. The chances are that as long as partners share child-care responsibilities, this scenario is more likely to change, and families, society and/or the workplace may not view women and girls as burdens.

As long as we keep viewing the primary roles of women and girls as only homemakers, we will keep seeing them as intruders, misfits or burdensome at workplaces. We will continue to assume and expect men to not play a role in child-care, thereby actively or subtly discouraging them from taking on these roles. In this case, the introduction of a law on paternity benefit could go a long way in improving the chances of women being able to choose to work outside the home, getting better and dignified working conditions and being considered a capable employee.

Our mindset needs to change and move beyond seeing men as providers, less emotional, disciplinarian, distant father figures, etc. – all that hegemonic and toxic masculine gender norms expect of men. To that of persons capable of feeling and showing emotions like care, sensitivity, willing to and capable of taking care of their children and contributing to household responsibilities with their partners.

Pauline Gomes works at Breakthrough India as a part of the curriculum and leadership development team. She creates products and publications for training and community action tools and facilitates interactive sessions with adolescents, teachers, parents, development sector professionals among others. She has worked on sexuality, gender, disability and human rights.

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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)’.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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