People & Society

Are Pakistani men ready for paternity leaves?

90 million children in the world live in countries where there is no concept of paternity leaves, according to UNICEF statistics. 

The map below by World Policy Center shows countries around the world that provide/do not provide paid paternity leaves. 

paternity-leave-around-the-world.png

Pakistan has been slow to respond and is categorized under countries with no paid leaves. On 27th January however, Senate approved the bill proposing maternity and paternity leaves in Pakistan. According to the bill, women will get paid maternity leave of:

  • 180 days (six months) on first birth
  • 120 days (four months) on second birth
  • 90 days (three months) on third birth

Men will get paid paternity leave of:

  • 30 days (one month), a total of three times during service. 

The government of Pakistan however has opposed the bill. Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar said there is already a law allowing three months of paid maternity leave and fathers could avail the 48-day annual leaves in such cases. 

The bill attempts to provide an opportunity to fathers to develop an enduring relationship with their newborns. 

Proponents of maternity and paternity leaves argue that the bill is a step in the right direction which will help more equitable division of parental labor. While believers of gender equality and women empowerment will greatly benefit from this, the possibilities of its abuse by the rest are inevitable. 

Conceptually, paternity leaves are supposed to provide a breather to the mother during her postnatal period. The father becomes engaged in primary childcare while the mother recovers from her health drop and postnatal mood swings. 

Such a leave would be also be favorable for single/widowed fathers, but is it imperative in the cultural context? Various aspects are debatable in this regard. 

In a country like Pakistan, gender roles are very deeply ingrained. As per the societal standards, women are supposed to be nurturing and take care of household chores while men are supposed to provide for the family. Most content on the channels and of the commercials reinforce these gender roles and have been a theme of discussion for a long time. 

Just months ago, we witnessed an uproar on social media after a poster from the annual Aurat March made rounds. “Khud khana garam karlo” sparked a lot of debate and a lot of misogynistic sentiments were afloat. 

khud-khana-garam-karlo.jpgSource: Dawn.com

A small study of 39 mothers and 40 fathers from rural Pakistan by Family Included, shows that fathers are less likely to be involved in the parental duties of a new born child in Pakistan while, educated fathers tend to engage more in nurturing and parental care for their infants. 

Despite the insignificant sample size, the study findings can be very easily generalized for the population. In public places and restaurants, women indulging in infant care, is a more common sight when men are seldom seen carrying children or maneuvering baby strollers. There are no diaper changing stations in men’s restrooms either. 

The contribution of unemployed men in the upbringing and parental duties of their children is also minimal. The ones who send their women for domestic help usually run away from sharing familial responsibilities too. 

The family system in Pakistan is also a major factor at play. Most families live in extended family systems where grandmothers and aunts are usually more involved in child care duties as opposed to the father. Longer paternity leaves make more sense due to the nuclear family system in the West. 

An extension of this system is the fact that women are expected to take care of the entire extended family even after child birth. Would a paternity leave entail attending to the expectations of another person, the father of the child, in such instances? Is the abuse of such a liberal policy more plausible?    

A blog presenting findings of a study of parental leaves in academia by the Wall Street Journal showed that most new fathers despite taking paternity leaves were less committed to infant care. 

The blog suggests paternity leaves be granted only when a father commits to sharing 50% of the childcare responsibilities. 

Another great proposition could be the grant of paternity leaves after a thorough means testing of each family and case. 

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