Paternity Leave - Letter To Maneka Gandhi

The Rajya Sabha passed The Maternity Benefit amendment, which now provides 26 weeks of maternity leave instead of 12 weeks, enabling and supporting new mothers to be with their new born.  In response to questions on paternity leave, Maneka Gandhi said that new fathers wouldn't do much, and that it would be a holiday for them. link

Dear Maneka Gandhi,

Thank you for amending and extending Maternity Benefit from 12 to 26 weeks.  I am certain that this is welcome by many across the country. This letter is an invitation for you to imagine an India that enables paternity leave too.

Yes, some men might use paternity leave as a holiday. The chances are high. This simply hasn’t happened before. Just because we have paternity leave doesn’t mean that men will immediately know how to co parent in the domestic space. or be emotional nurturers. We raise our boys to be ‘men’, embodying a kind of masculinity that  often swings between numbness and rage, along with an idea of protection that polices their sisters, mothers, daughters, wives, where they protect ‘their women’ from other men. Besides ‘other men’,  sexual / gender based violence within the family goes untold , unreported, not forgotten.

Men, mobs, fists, rage, stones, war, weapon, rape.  Our bodies. What will they know what to do with a child?  They will take a holiday.

Too many generations of men and women have been raised by distant fathers , sometimes financial providers, many who beat and abuse their mothers. (There is of course little record of marital rape, which is likely to lead to another open letter to you)  Their fathers and their fathers fathers were not allowed to become their potential parent.

I write this and I am reminded that somewhere there are nurturing, and emotionally available fathers, but those are far and few.

I am still talking about paternity leave.

Everything has the potential of misuse.
Everything has the potential to set something right.

I write because I believe that one day when I do have a child, I will be a parent, a co parent  that is responsible for the child’s well being. It would be a shared responsibility and I won’t settle for less. The state must allow it too. By enabling paternity leave, you will be recognising, highlighting, emphasising, enforcing, prioritising, drawing attention to the role of both parents  in child care , mother and father. The act is not just meeting a need but also establishing a vision, a future for this country, where a child has been emotionally nurtured by both or all parents, and where you create space for men to become nurturers. They haven’t known it because they haven’t imagined it, nor encountered a role model, nor had the space. To establish a space is the first step. To learn to act in the space comes soon after. Yes , I am certain that it will be misused but it will also set the tone and vision which is needed: that which enables mothers to imagine parenting as a shared responsibility, and therefore enables women to unapologetically dream multiple identities , beyond motherhood should anyone wish to….

We are affected by one another and the choices we are allowed to make.

As someone who has witnessed and known different family structures , from single parent, two parents of the same sex, male parent adoption or surrogacy,  hetero-normative “ hum do, hamaray do “ parents, I believe in the idea of parenthood over ‘mother’ or ‘father’ , because that too is a gendered construct. However for the sake of the conversation on paternity leave, I am stepping back and into the first conversation of the mother and father. We need both maternity and paternity leave. This is about domestic labour, our idea of motherhood and fatherhood and co parenting. This is also about how the state constructs masculinities, womanhood, motherhood, and allowing it new forms and expression.

I dream of a world of shared responsibilities regardless of gender. A world where women are not denied a job over a man, because they will one day be a pregnant ‘burden’ to the workplace. A world where the domestic space or home will also be recognised as a site of labour and love, instead of what it is right now.  We have heard it before, “ I am ‘just’ a housewife ”, “ I don’t do anything, my time goes with my kids” . Motherhood is work. Home is work. It has been unpaid, invisible, undervalued work. Paternal leave has the scope to change the way we function both inside and outside the home, from ‘office’ workspace to the family kitchen (also a workspace).  I also dream of a world where men are emotionally connected, invested and not on the verge of exploding with rage. I dream of a world where we are connected, truly connected, inside ourselves and amongst ourselves.  Where we are present. Where the absent father is present. Being present in his child’s life could further create space for him to be emotionally connected with himself. That is a step towards ending violence against women and children.

We know change takes time. We know there will be misuse. We want you to envision, even if your job asks you to fire fight. Step back and imagine.

On behalf of many.

Action Hero

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