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Did You Know Paternity Leaves Can Help Retain Women In Indian Workforce?

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Written by: Diya Maria Abraham

India, now in the throes of the second wave of the deadly coronavirus has extended the long spell of work-from-home (WFH) for those in the formal workforce. Most people are experiencing fatigue, especially women who work full-time and have children and additional caregiving responsibilities. Before the pandemic, the domestic worker would help with chores around the house, the after-school daycare would ensure small are taken care of, and the mothers also had the option to ask the grandparents for help. The pandemic has made outsourcing care work really difficult.

“Balancing household chores, spending time with my family, homeschooling my kids, my profession and its added responsibilities have been painstaking, energy-draining and extremely hectic in this period,” says Dr. Varsha, a working mother.

In a country with no formal paternity leave policy, where gendered differences are deeply entrenched, women, especially, mothers are seen as the primary caregivers for both adults and children. Such a situation is likely to push women to make difficult choices. But what can companies to do retain their female workforce?

Data Shows All Is Not Well With Women

working paper from Azim Premji University highlights that women in India are seven times more likely to lose work during the national lockdown and 11 times more likely to not return to work after a job loss. This can be corroborated by looking at CMIE data which shows that the employment rate of women in urban areas fell from 7.5% before the pandemic to 5.4% in February 2021.

This article will make a case for increased paternity leave and will look at how companies can retain their female employees and create a culture where care responsibilities are shared by both partners equally, irrespective of their gender.

A way to formally divide care responsibilities between working partners is to institute paid paternity leave. While many argue that it is economically not feasible to have such a policy, many case studies and working policies have proved that they are not only possible, but the benefits of family-friendly policies extend beyond the personal and positively impact the workplace.

According to an analysis undertaken for the World Bank Group’s 2019 Women, Business, and the Law Report, only 90 out of 187 countries (48 percent) provide any paid paternity leave that a new father can take as a matter of national policy. These provisions usually do not extend for more than a few days at a time. The only notable change comes from OECD countries where men’s use of parental leave is seen to be increasing, although the number of days taken continues to be very minimal. How can the situation improve?

Women have been traditionally seen to drop out of the corporate rat race during the ‘messy middle.’ This is described as that period where responsibilities at home and work dramatically increase.

The Case For Paternity Leaves

To counter this disproportionate increase in workload, the constitution of non-transferable and paid parental leave for fathers is necessary. This would help in greater retention of female employees and ensure their promotion to higher levels. These designated leaves, sometimes referred to as ‘daddy days’ have been adopted in Iceland, Sweden, and Korea, which saw a doubling of parental leaves taken by men.

Such a system coupled with adequate time off and flexible working hours seems to be the most effective in encouraging fathers to take the leave and in supporting families with a greater division of care work.

Patriarchal gender roles create workplace pressure and stigma over fathers taking time off for parental responsibilities. A significant way to counter this is by incentivizing them with an adequate pay replacement.

need for paternity leaves india

The best available research evidence suggests that a wage replacement rate (a percentage of the total wage would be paid by the employer or through other schemes) of at least 80% is needed to address poverty and promote gender equality in leave-taking. The recommended time period, according to UNICEF, is 18 weeks of paid maternity leave, and at least six months of paid maternity, paternity, and parental leave after the birth of the child.

The report by the World Policy Analysis Centre on paid parental leave in OECD countries strongly suggests that making at least six months of paid parental leave to both parents is economically feasible, showing no differences in the unemployment rate or evident decreases in GDP growth.

Most countries provide paid leave through social security schemes that rely on a mix of contributions from employers and employees, often with additional government funds. While it may be difficult for small businesses to self-insure paid parental leave, policies can be made affordable by requiring businesses to contribute only a small percentage of payroll to social security schemes.

What Have Companies Been Upto?

Many companies such as IKEA work with a corporate social responsibility platform to implement family-friendly policies such as housing and access to school for the children of migrant workers who work them. Netflix now allows working fathers to take unlimited leaves during the first year after a child is born or adopted. Facebook, eBay, and Amazon now offer four months, 12 weeks, and six weeks of paid paternity leave, respectively. Businesses are more accountable than ever for their impact on communities. Reinforcing gender stereotypes and creating family-friendly policies is a big part of their role in upholding diversity and inclusion.

need for paternity leaves india

The individual and social benefits of having fathers involved in care work have been written about in great detail. These include being engaged in their kids’ lives, improved physical, mental, and sexual well-being, fewer chances of domestic violence, and even increasing women’s pay and chances of hierarchical positions. It establishes the parental role and family dynamics from the get-go, important for strengthening relationships and acting as role models for their children.

In this context, it is necessary to highlight the several organizational benefits that a paid paternity leave policy could bring about and why companies should take the initiative in the absence of a government-mandated structure.

Impact On Productivity

In pursuit of acquiring highly skilled workers, workplace policy and environment have become important markers that candidates examine before accepting jobs. One company communicated that “It is a strategy in a ‘battle of talents’, where we need to offer the most attractive practices to employ highly skilled workers.” Creating a family-friendly and gender-equal environment not only helps in hiring skilled workers but also retaining them in the longer run. It is also more economical to retain skilled workers well-versed in company history and practices as investing in developed human capital will help save on resources and time.

need for paternity leaves india

Many employers also recognized that their employees’ well-being is a strong factor for improved productivity. Millennials, who take on a more active role in care work, are seen to be demanding better work/life balance from their employers as many reports facing performance challenges and health problems early on in their careers. A company that advertises itself as being a safe space and encouraging a healthy work-life balance will be attractive for many and also act as a supportive space for young working parents.

“We are convinced that when our people are happy with their children and with their families and are safe, productivity increases and they are focused on the job, which is their second home, where they spend a majority of their time.” – Luis Aguirre, President, Index Mexico.

Market Reputation

Companies are increasingly conscious of their public image and how consumers and potential employees perceive their brands. To appeal to their consumers, businesses may find that family-friendly policies are important marketing strategies for brand alignment with products and brands targeting children or families. Responsible companies understand that minimizing environmental risks and waste costs are not enough. The need to comply with labor standards, ensure proper working standards and benefits is ethically right and adds to long-term value creation, and greatly influences consumer choices.

Need For Diversity And Inclusion

Many businesses, especially those in traditionally male-dominated sectors such as IT and engineering, emphasized the need to implement family-friendly policies to boost workforce diversity and allow for gender inclusivity. Such company policies must be inclusive and accessible to all parents irrespective of their sexual orientation and relationship status. Granting extended leave and support to cases requiring special attention (disability, prematurity, a health condition or multiple births, etc.), in adoption cases, for treatments of assisted fertilization, in cases of gender violence, or to same-sex couples should also be considered.

Healthy Working Environment

McKinsey, in its 2021 survey, noted the importance given by employees to a work culture that encouraged taking leave, policy support from their employers, and an unaffected promotion timeline. These conditions are possible only in an environment wherein paternity leave is not looked down upon but encouraged as a necessity. This can be brought through awareness programs and most effectively through managers taking paternity leave and demonstrating that there would not be any negative consequences.

Such an environment would also practice in a bias-free hiring practice as both men and women would take leave for care duties and make the workplace less subject to casual sexism and gender discrimination.

The inclusion of a paid paternity leave policy can only yield true benefits with the support of government policy and the affordable and accessible care industry. While this is lacking in our country, companies can take the first step by initiating family-friendly policies in the workplace and contributing to creating a society free from gender bias.

About the author: Diya is an undergraduate student at St. Stephen’s College. Her interests include socio-legal research and criminal justice.

All images have been used for representation only.

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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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