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Share the burdens of parenting PDF Print E-mail
(1 Vote)
Written by DNA India   

While maternity leave can be taken in two blocks of 180 days each, women in government service get to take another two years off as child care leave till their children reach 18 years of age.

I am sure the intention behind this decision was good, though the looming elections must have played a part in calculations. Women have always lost out on careers due to child-bearing and child-rearing duties. Many drop out of the job market altogether, or have the mortification of seeing their male colleagues move far ahead in careers when they take their maternity breaks. So when women retain their seniority despite three years of leave, one should regard it as a godsend.

Or should they? I don't think so. First, the main argument of feminists has always been that men contribute very little in the area of bringing up children. The leave proposal will ensure that they contribute even less, as it is now more sensible to let the person with more leave to her credit to handle the job. Not exactly what feminists should want.

Second, while three years of leave sounds good, there is always going to be a loss of skills over three years, even when seniority is maintained. The people around you will have moved on, and workplace relationships change. All this will have to be rebuilt on your return. So, even while women may theoretically retain their seniority in government jobs, they will still be slipping in career terms.

Third, this kind of concession to women is sure to attract negative responses from men. If anything, men will be more inclined to think women are getting undue favours - even though parenting isn't exactly a cushy job.

This will automatically bias men from giving women their due at the workplace - and men are the ones still taking those decisions. I would not also expect women colleagues to be too supportive, especially older women or those choosing not to have children. Far from helping parents to spend more time with their children, the decision is heavily loaded against those who don't have children.

Fourth, the decision will have disastrous consequences for government efficiency, especially in places with a preponderance of women. Few people anyway think government offices are hotbeds of efficiency.

Give women three years off, and the blame for inefficiency is more likely to be laid at the door of women than anyone else.

Fifth, we all need to ask ourselves what gender justice really means? Is it about giving women so-called concessions or ensuring a better distribution of the burdens of parenthood? Does it mean enabling women alone to balance their work and life spheres, or should the idea encompass men, too?

The most logical thing to do is give every couple a block of three years of leave between them to ensure equitable parenting. How the three years is divvied up should be left to the couple themselves. If women are pursuing more rewarding careers, they could let the man take charge of the nest. If not, they could make the sacrifice themselves. Either way, the children benefit. And women will be able to break out of stereotypical roles.

By making a provision that allows only women to benefit from the leave, the government is not sending the right message of gender justice. I wouldn't be surprised if women lose out even more from this arrangement as employers start writing off their women employees. The only way to balance the picture is to bring the man into it.

Given the rising cost of labour in organised industry, I would not like to suggest extending the three-year leave provision to the private sector as yet. But even here, beyond the three-month maternity leave that women just must have, the rest of the available leave needs to be made available equally for both parents.

DNA 18th Sept. 2008

Readers' Comments in the paper:

Shared parenting
R Jagannathan’s column ‘Share the burden of parenting’ (DNA, September 18) was superb. Usually, DNA reports on social and family issues are always unbiased. I hope the newspaper continues creating awareness on gender equality in our society and helps preserve our greatest asset, our family values. Such articles help us analyse the way our legal system functions, and this is important, as it has strong views on gender issues. In the context of today’s nuclear families, fathers should be encouraged to share parenting responsibilities, and women must realise that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand.
—Kumar Jahgirdar, president, Child Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP)

Apropos ‘Share the burden of parenting’ (DNA, September 18), the idea of raising children by sharing the task between the husband and the working wife as mooted by R Jagannathan seems to be good. However, granting a long spell of leave, say for 3 years, will definitely be counter-productive. At best, when leave is granted at a stretch, beyond 3 months, the concept of ‘no work no pay’ should apply.
—PM Gopalan, Mumbai

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