Maternity, paternity or parental leave? Dilemmas and stereotypes

Diksha Nawany | Updated on March 10, 2018

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# Paid parental leave (for use by both parents) is available in 23 OECD countries, but uptake by fathers is low.

# Enabling fathers to take greater responsibility in childcare and parental leave can support women’s careers.

The “complete man” stays home to look after baby as the deeply relieved woman goes to work seeing the child in safe hands. Is this true only of television commercials or does the advertisement reflect contemporary life?

The commercial may have tried to break gender stereotypes, just as discussions on extending maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks have brought paternity leave also into the dialogue.

But good intentions aside, amending The Maternity Benefit Bill to increase maternity leave may in fact reinforce stereotypes and work against women, caution experts. Employers may get discouraged from hiring women, where as implementation of paternity leave could help bridge this gap. And policy should drive this change, they add, taking a cue from Sweden’s gender-neutral paid parental leave policy.

Shobana Kamineni, Executive Vice Chairperson of Apollo Hospitals feels that the recently amended Maternity Bill is discriminatory to women because it raises the cost of hiring young women versus men. “I like the idea of any organization hiring more than 10 women younger than 40 years of age to mandatorily accommodate a crèche and also provide an option of working from home during maternity leave,” she says.

Smaller firms worry that increased maternity leave, or 26 weeks of paid leave, may be too much of a cost to bear, say representatives, stressing they are not companies unfriendly to women.

“For a small scale firm like ours with less than 50 employees, it is not feasible for us to pay such salaries for months without work and pay the replacement as well. How will a business sustain,” asks housing entrepreneur Arun Bhatia (name changed).

So that’s where paternity leave makes sense. Rahul Menon, economics professor at St Xavier’s College explains that paternity leave would give young families an option, allowing the woman to share responsibility with her partner. This means she doesn’t have to be out of the labour force for long. And in a high pressure job, it can actually help reduce wage discrepancies, he adds.

Sweden, for example was the first to implement a gender-neutral paid parental leave policy. Men hardly opted for this leave initially. But subsequent amendments and generous leave structures led to them taking a quarter of it.

Menon agrees that “policy would not do it all on its own, but it helps.” Paternity leave will not make men more caring immediately but over time it might inculcate a culture that makes men also responsible for taking care of the child, he says. It helps bring in an environment of shared responsibility where the woman is not penalized for staying out of the workforce for long, he adds.

Giving a medical perspective, Sucheta Kinjawadekar, gynecologist with Kamalesh Mother and Child Hospital explains that a mother needs six weeks rest after childbirth, a time she needs emotional support from her partner. “I have seen husbands not coming for pre-natal check-ups and sometimes not being present for childbirth. Very few are interested in the medical procedure and problems ….,” she says.

Nevertheless, making a case for paternity, she says, the mother-child bonding happens while nursing and fathers bond through active participation in childcare. And that’s where paternity leave can help the entire family, says Kinjawadekar.

Source: OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) report, 2016)

(The writer is an intern with the paper.)

Published on September 02, 2016

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