The law is also about helping women and changing mindsets

Dear Maneka not all men will holiday on paternity leave and even if they do we need the law
Voices Opinion Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - 17:11

Following the passage of the Maternity Leave Bill in the Rajya Sabha recently, there is now a louder call for a law mandating paternity leave in the private sector, and enhancing the available leave for government employees.

This excellent article by Shalini Nair in the Indian Express makes a strong case for mandating paternity leave for the private sector in India.

 As it stands, in India, biological and adoptive fathers who work for the government are allowed to take 15 days of paid leave following the birth of a baby. There is no compulsion in the private sector but many organizations allow paternity leave up to 2 weeks. Internationally, 78 countries have mandated paternity leave for all employees.

But in a recent interview, Union Women and Child Development Minister, Maneka Gandhi, has said that a paternity leave law would have limited impact in India, and that it would end up being a holiday for dads. “If men gave me one iota of hope by taking sick leave for child care, then yes, we can think of mooting a proposal for paternity leave,” Maneka told the Express.

 First off, this is a rather unfair assumption. It could be a limited, urban phenomenon, but more and more men are indeed taking greater responsibility towards their children and taking ownership of their responsibilities as a father. Stay-at-home dads could be few and far between, but the mindset is changing.

Even if Maneka is right about Indian men, is her judgment of Indian men a good reason not to propose paternity leave laws?

One, in mandating paternity leave, we aren’t just making it easy for dads to spend time with children, but also attempting a change in mindset -  that it isn’t just the mother’s job to look after the child.

Two, paternity leave doesn’t help just the men, it helps women too. Nair quotes a reports to make her case for paternity leave:

-          A review by the Centre for Social Research for the National Commission of Women said in 2014, “…The right to paternity leave could be crucial for changes in the relationships and perceptions of parenting roles… The Maternity Benefit Act does not entitle working men such leave, and thereby does not make an adequate effort in the struggle towards a gender-balanced approach to care-giving and unpaid domestic work.” –

 To assume that a paternity leave law, at its inception, will only help men would be misguided. It is also an important step towards helping women and changing society’s mindset.

Further, from better parenting to increased economic benefits, several advantages of paternity leave have been documented globally. It is also known to be a great employee benefit, helping companies retain their workforce and keep them happy.

The other problem with Maneka Gandhi’s argument is that she wants ‘proof’. Here is the catch – it is because men think it’s not their job to look after their child that they don’t take sick leave to help out the mother. And it is to change that mindset, and enable fathers, that a paternity leave law is being demanded. How can we have proof for what is to be the desired effect of the law?

So it’s simple, isn’t it? Let’s have paternity leave laws. No. Even though governments and companies across the world have enacted paternity leave laws, it is not easy to get men to use them, and obtain the desired effect.

There are several reasons which have been pointed out for it. Some fear losing out at work, others still believe in gender stereotypes. WSJ reports that a paper from the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management found that men who are active caregivers get teased and insulted at work more than the so-called traditional fathers and men without children.

It is very possible that in India, as Maneka says, men could just take the leave and go on a holiday. But this is a problem which calls for intelligent policy, not doing away with the idea altogether.

Sweden was the first country to enact paternity leave laws, but later discovered – as Nair reports – that men were not availing it enough. So what did they do? They “constantly fine-tuned its policy since then, from reserving one month of parental leave as an exclusive ‘daddy’s month’, to 16 months of paid parental leave, of which three months have to be taken by the father before the child’s eighth birthday.”

It is to change the mindset which Gandhi talks of that we need to mandate paternity leave. And the global experience is an advantage for India to craft a better law.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.


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