Gender balance is at the heart of paternity leave

If Kohli’s paternity leave normalises the sentiment that men do need to lend a hand, it will make it easier for women to return to work.


Ambica Sachin

Published: Thu 12 Nov 2020, 10:05 AM

What exactly is it that men do during paternity leave, I ponder, as the debate heats up over Indian cricketer Virat Kohli being sanctioned one for the birth of his first child with wife, Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma. The Indian skipper is expected to fly back from Australia after the first of four test matches in Adelaide during the Border Gavaskar Trophy to be by his wife’s side in January 2021, for the momentous occasion.

Maternity leave is on par with the universally acknowledged notion that a woman undergoes extreme physical and often psychological upheavals during the process of childbirth and needs time to heal and recover. There are also, of course, many childbearing warriors who march from the hospital bed to the boardroom with nary a pause in between.

Paternity leave is, however, a modern concept that is reflective of a progressive society that recognises both men and women as equal participants in rearing a child. In August this year, UAE law decreed paternity leave for men employed in the private sector, showcasing the country’s keenness to establish gender balance within society.

Sadly many societies often relegate domestic chores including that of bringing up a child to the womenfolk. She could be a high flying professional with a demanding career or a super efficient homemaker toiling to ensure the smooth working of a household. Pockets of toxic masculinity still exist within certain societies where men are exempt from these mundane chores so they can focus on more pressing matters like chasing business deals and crunching numbers.

Recent research interestingly suggests that unlike the commonly held perception that in early days men were the hunters and women, the gatherers, in many civilisations it was a far more equitable deal proving that gendered labour roles came into existence more recently.

With more women stepping back into the workplace post the birth of a baby, it has become a necessity rather than a choice today for both sets of parents to pull their weight. But it’s not just raising a baby together that is at the crux of the issue, is it?

A resurfaced memo penned by Joe Biden to his staff ahead of Thanksgiving in 2014, that went viral recently, is relevant in this context. “I do not expect nor do I want any of you to miss or sacrifice important family obligations for work,” the note says. It goes on to add, “…if I find out that you are working with me while missing important family responsibilities, it will disappoint me greatly.”

Gone are the days of work-life balance; it’s all about work-life integration now. More companies are waking up to the reality, especially post-Covid, that saw huge swatches of the world’s workforce cooped up at home juggling official work within a domestic setting, that it’s imperative for their employees’ wellbeing as well as the bottom line of the company that one does not come at the cost of the other.

If an individual is at the centre of society, then the family is the one that centres him and to paraphrase William Butler Yeats’ famous poem: Things fall apart, when the centre cannot hold…

Kohli seeking paternity leave might not seem like a big issue in the whole scheme of things right now. But if it normalises the sentiment that men do need to step away from their professional work and lend a hand to what has traditionally been seen as a woman’s domain, it will make it easier for women to return to work without having to face societal censure and worse, suffer the turmoil of self-inflicted guilt. If women are demanding a more level playing field in the professional arena, isn’t it time men step up and accept the same within the domestic setting?


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