Breaking down barriers in family is essential for gender equality. After increasing maternity benefits, India must learn from other countries and let Indian fathers have their daddy months

Division of labour at home, shared responsibility, active co-partners, work-family life balance, proper child development, sensitive men- and many other reasons- have been attributed to the need for having paternity leave for working men. And why not? Why should men in this country think their role is limited to just providing sperm to their partners? Men have to complete their responsibility of a parent as well.

It’s essential to break the division of labour at home and to attack patriarchal conditioning at home. With nuclear families becoming the norm in contemporary society, it’s imperative that men share responsibility. Not only does it help women to focus on their career, it also helps to strengthen the relationship bond between husband and wife.

Paternal responsibility should not be just forced down the throat, what needs to be emphasised is that a man can also have the desire to be a sensitive, caring and affectionate father. Gender notions that bracket women only as caregivers and men only as bread-earners has to be pierced. Right to parenthood has to be accepted for men as well.

Paternity leave provisions in India

There is no provision on paternity leave or even maternity leave in the unorganized sector. Nor is there any provision of paternity leave for private sector workers.

The only major provision for paternity leave in India is for the Central Government employees.
Even that is not compulsory; only voluntary.

In 1999, the Central Government by a notification inserted Rule 43-A in the Central Civil Services (Leave) Rules, 1972 which provides paternity leave for a period of 15 days before childbirth or up to six months from the date of delivery of the child. During this period of 15 days, the employee shall be paid leave salary equal to the pay drawn immediately before proceeding on leave.

This rule is not a compulsory one. It’s employee’s wish to take it or not. Also, it ‘may’ be given and hence, gives discretion to the authority. However, a note with the Rule states that the Paternity Leave shall not normally be refused under any circumstances.

Most state governments have also formulated the same policy for their employees. Last year, the West Bengal government even increased the period of leave to 30 days.

Despite there being no legislation, the Delhi High Court in 2009 passed a judgement stating that all private schools should give paternity leave to their employees as per the Delhi Education Act and Rules. The court ordered a school to give Chandramohan Jain, a private school teacher, his deducted salary back as his leaves were recognised as paternity leave.

Opportunity lost

The Maternity Benefit Act passed by the Indian Parliament this year is indeed a progressive one for working women in India, who are employed in the organised sector, as it increases maternity leave for them from 12 to 26 weeks. This will benefit about 1.8 million women. India is now in the league of countries such as Canada and Norway, which offer upto 50 weeks paid maternity leave.

Despite this, the act has come under a lot of criticism as it doesn’t provide the provision of paternity leave. It has been argued that it is reinforcing the idea that women are natural caretakers of their child and the sole in-charge of child care and domestic work.

A recent study released by the National Commission for Women (NCW) showed prevalence of widespread discrimination against pregnant women in the corporate sector in India. The NCW study, as well as a 2011 report by the Labour Ministry, state that decent maternity leave by itself leads to mounting pressure on women’s productive and reproductive roles and, hence, longer paternity leave is an idea whose time has come in India.

Responding to these criticisms, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi has said that such a legislation on paternity leave will have little impact in India, where men do not even avail their existing leave entitlements to share the responsibility of child care.

Speaking to The Indian Express, she said, “Paternity leave can be considered only if, once the woman goes back to work after her 26 weeks of leave, we find that men are availing their sick leave for a month to take care of the child. Let me see how many men do that. I will be happy to give it but for a man, it will be just a holiday, he won’t do anything.”

Even if, for argument’s sake, we believe that some men can take it as a holiday, laws cannot be made on the premise that there is a chance of mis-use. Proper safeguards in policy formulation have to be there, not just a blanket view. We have to be positive enough looking at the experience of other countries (discussed ahead), the direction where other progressive societies are heading to.

Global scenario

International Labour Organisation’s Maternity and Paternity at Work report, published in 2014, stated that paternity leave entitlements can be found in the national legislations of at least 79 countries: 29 in Africa, 7 in Asia, 5 in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 24 in the developed economies, 13 in Latin America and the Caribbean and 2 countries, Saudi Arabia and Syrian Arab Republic in the Middle East.

 The length of paternity leave varies from country to country. Among those with national provisions, the duration ranges from just one day in Tunisia to 90 days in Iceland, Slovenia and Finland.

Another finding in this report which can certainly be tried in India, as our minister is worried about mis-use of this provision, is that instead of dedicated paternity leave, several countries offer general emergency leave or family leave, in addition to annual leave, which can be used by new fathers at the time of childbirth.

But the problems that have been found in this is that it fails to identify childbirth as a legitimate concern of working fathers, reflecting a social attitude which is not supportive of their caregiving role. It can be considered only as an indirect substitute for dedicated paternity (or parental) leave. Thus, can be used as a trial method for sometime, and the results can be used to analyse whether we are ready for paternity leave or not.

In most of the countries, fathers may choose whether to take the leave or not. Just three countries have made paternity leave compulsory. Compulsory paternity leave helps to ensure that fathers

share childcare responsibility with mothers and allows for greater involvement of men in the critical early stages of an infant’s development.

In Chile, a five–day period of paternity leave is compulsory and must be taken during the first month after birth.

In Portugal, ten days of compulsory leave must be taken within 30 days of birth, five of which must be consecutive. Fathers have the option to take an additional ten days of paternity leave.

The 2012 labour law reform of Italy introduced on an experimental basis (until 2015) a period of one day of compulsory paternity leave plus the option of two voluntary days, which can be transferred from the compulsory share of maternity leave with the mother’s consent.

Except maternity/ paternity leaves, parental leave is also offered in many countries. It refers to a relatively long-term leave available to either or both parents, allowing them to take care of an infant or young child over a period of time, usually following the maternity or paternity leave period.

Even if the duration of parental leave is not that much as compared to maternity leave, many studies have shown that parental leave policies which allocate ‘non-transferable’ portions to the father, lead to a higher take-up of such leave by them. On the other hand, in cases where parental leave policy gives option to the parents to choose, mostly mothers take it or are made to take that leave.

Therefore, in order to encourage men taking up parental leave, recent policies have focused on allocating individual rights to both parents, rather than providing shared leave.

The most successful case of parental leave has been that of Sweden, who was the first country to grant men and women equal access to paid parental leave in 1974, which was based on the choice of parents. Back then, few men took parental leave, and thus, in 1995, Sweden introduced a non-transferable “daddy’s month”. This leave was further extended to two months in 2002, with pay at 80 per cent of the income.

New parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of leave at 80% of their normal pay. That’s on top of the 18 weeks reserved just for mothers, after which the parents can split up the time however they choose. Sweden is unique in that dads also get 90 paid paternity days reserved just for them.

Research shows that in Sweden, women’s paychecks are benefiting and the shift in fathers’ roles is perceived as playing a part in lower divorce rates and increasing joint custody of children. A study published by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation in March showed that a mother’s future earnings increase on average 7 percent for every month the father takes leave.

The daddy months have left their mark. Dads there get both paternity leave and a non-transferable paternal leave. Sweden’s example shows that changing laws does help in social engineering and changing of attitudes, even if it takes a few decades.

Norway also has a non-transferable leave period of 14 weeks to encourage men’s take-up of childcare responsibilities. Portugal too provides non-transferable allocations of paid parental leave for fathers, which cannot be transferred to the other parent.

Other countries who have commendable parental leave policies are:

  • Finland offers eight weeks of paid paternity leave. After a child turns three, parents can also take partial care leave, in which they split time between home and work.
  • Icelandic parents can split theirnine months of post-childbirth leave straight down the middle. New moms get three months, new dads get three months, and then it’s up to the couple to decide how they’ll split the remaining three months. Neither parent can transfer any portion of their three-month chunk, however, as the government wants to ensure both parents can work and that kids get to spend time with both.
  • The trend is, however, no longer limited to small countries. Germany, with nearly 82 million people, in 2007 tweaked Sweden’s model, reserving two out of 14 months of paid leave for fathers. Within two years, fathers taking parental leave surged from 3 percent to more than 20 percent.
  • United Kingdom: Employees can choose to take either 1 week or 2 consecutive weeks’ leave.Remaining leave is Shared Parental Leave: 52 weeks minus any weeks of maternity or adoption leave.

Indian Corporate scene

Though not mandatory, big corporate houses have started giving paternity leave option to it’s employees, following the global trend in their offices across the globe. For example, Ikea, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Cisco, PayPal, Accenture and Deutsche Bank.

Few Indian companies have also followed them, like Kotak Mahindra Bank, Hindustan Unilever Limited, GSK Consumer Healthcare, Flipkart, Godrej, Intel India, Asian Paints, NIIT, Infosys.

Stigma & Benefits

The stigma attached with emotional, caring and affectionate men, who can and should share the responsibility of child development, has to be broken.  In an age, where many men want to be with their wives during the time when she goes into labour, there is no point stopping them from being more understanding and considerate in bonding with their partner and child.

And as we men know ourselves, we have to be compelled to do the right things. That’s probably the reason that most countries have made paternity leave mandatory.

There are a lot of benefits in store too. Become a satisfied parent; have a satisfied marriage; personality development of kids; ensure gender equality at the workplace and because of all these, what men would like the most- more sex!

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