Mark Zuckerberg, daddy dearest: Why we need more nuanced gender balanced parental leave policies in India



Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg has announced that he will be taking two months of paternity leave after the birth of his daughter, BBC reported. His announcement on the timeline received positive messages of encouragement, while many decided to ask pertinent questions about maternity and paternity leaves in other countries. He wrote on his Facebook timeline, “…We’ve also been thinking about how we’re going to take time off during the first months of her life. This is a very personal decision, and I’ve decided to take 2 months of paternity leave when our daughter arrives. Studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families. At Facebook we offer our US employees up to 4 months of paid maternity or paternity leave which they can take throughout the year…”

Paternity leave is not that uncommon a phenomenon and in fact is a common feature of the Nordic region and many other countries in Europe. The Economist reported that Sweden was the first country to introduce a gender-neutral paid parental leave allowance 40 years ago (1974) and to this year, 90 percent of Swedish fathers now take paternity leave. In Britain, such a law was introduced in 2015, where parents would be able to enjoy shared parental leave up to 12 months, according to The Guardian. In India, however, we have a long way to go; the Central government in 1999 (under Central Civil Services (leave) Rule 551(A)) made provisions for paternity leave of 15 days for a male central government employee and the same rules apply even when a child is adopted. However, while the leave is sanctioned for government employees there is no blanket law that makes the private sector compliant to the paternity leave allowance.

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Let the couples handle it, why do we have to decide who gets how much leave? Well, one could only wish that matters of gender equality were that simple. Traditionally, the home-sphere was where women were made to belong. That has changed over time; today women are everywhere — in space, behind cameras, in boardrooms, in universities. India’s female workforce, though well below the global average of 50 percent is growing at a steady rate.

Therefore, it is imperative to acknowledge the many aspects of work-life conflicts that affect both men and women. What many fail to grasp is that things called the home-sphere, child-rearing, housework are still shadowing women everywhere they go. Sociologists and anthropologists have long formulated theories on how women tend to work two shifts: one at the workplace and one after coming home. In Arlie Hochschild’sThe Second Shift: Working families and revolution at home, she writes, “more often than men, women alternated between living in ambition and standing apart from it.” In the prize that is supposed to be life, women get the raw deal because they are overworked. Experts on Gender have long pointed to how the discrimination that women face is multifold that it is not enough for modern workplaces to employ women, but they need to repair the work culture in ways that don’t punish women for their biology.

Pamela Stone in her book, Opting Out? Why women really quit careers and head homeexplores that women are still torn between handling work and family. Research also suggests that women who take maternity leave are often intangibly penalised as they miss out on career advancement opportunities. In such situations, an equal paid parental leave that is gender neutral is imperative, where the onus of childcare is enforced on both parents. The existence of only maternity leave or a short paternity leave implies that childcare is primarily a woman’s responsibility. In Sweden, they have something called a ‘daddy quota’ in place which reserves a part of the parental leave period for the fathers as non-transferrable, in essence if the fathers do not use that leave, the leaves lapse. These strict rules on leave policy perhaps will ensure regressive notions about childcare as ‘female destiny’ can be kept in check and be discouraged at a policy-making level.

Over the years, private companies in India have been much more receptive to the needs of young parents and have opened their eyes to the reality of paternity leave. The Times of India reports that a start-up Vedanta, encourages fathers to take 15 days of paid leave with an option to extend. Infosys also allows up to five days of paternity leave along with ‘work from home’ options. A man’s role during childbirth and for childcare shouldn’t be looked in terms of biology but in terms of support that a new mother might require to recuperate or regain her position at her workplace after maternity leave.

Zuckerberg’s announcement has brought an important issue to light that most companies choose to ignore, perhaps, it is time to revisit HR policies and government mandates?


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