Aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia proposed giving paternity leave in airlines to male employees, as per reports on Wednesday. Scindia was speaking at an event when he impressed on the need to create gender-neutral environments in the aviation industry and encourage men to take on more responsibility domestically.
“A case in point is why do we look at the concept of only maternity leave. We must also look at the concept of paternity leave where men must also partake in the responsibility of bringing up children at home,” Scindia said, as quoted by PTI.
He further pointed out the lopsided numbers in aviation, with a larger share presently occupied by men, and batted for an increase in women pilots to 50 percent. “Is 15 percent good enough? My answer is flat no,” he said, referencing the current statistic of women pilots in the country. “You have pierced every glass ceiling.”
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While the encouragement for greater participation of women in the aviation industry is welcome – it goes without saying – what is remarkable is the mainstreaming of the conversation around paternity leaves in India. We are a society where parenting is seen as the sole “job” of women. Where fathers are breadwinners, mothers are caretakers.
This is not to say that many male partners, especially those part of the youth demographic, today are taking on more responsibility for raising children. But convention still has a chokehold over us and it is no secret that the major load of parenthood, right from birth to rearing, falls on the shoulders of the woman of the house in India.
Paternity leave in airlines will encourage a progressive shift in our consciousness towards men being equal shareholders in parenthood.
Outdoor employment has normalised the absenteeism of men from the equation of shared parenting. A man’s duty in the house is only towards working hard to rake in money and that’s it. What about domestic duties? Doesn’t the relationship signify equal partnership? If working women are successfully accommodating both jobs and children, then why shouldn’t men?
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A large majority of India still holds the belief that parenting is the woman’s domain and so, giving her maternity leave benefits when she embraces motherhood is only natural. She will have to recuperate, care for the newborn, adjust to her renewed family settings. But we are wired to overlook the fact that the father – except pushing a baby out of him – also has similar conditions to familiarise himself with.
Presence in the relationship cannot just be token. The father has to be there. Not only to experience the first months with their child but also to stand in emotional and physical support with their partners.
The concept of paternity leave exists worldwide and some of the most successful men – including Mark Zuckerberg and more recently, Twitter CEO Parag Agarwal – have opted for them after becoming fathers. In India, we are sadly still resistant to the idea. This is unfortunate since India’s Maternity Benefit Act was progressively in place as long ago as 1961.
Remember how cricketer Virat Kohli was torn apart by critics in 2020 when he chose to back out of the Australia-India test series to be with his pregnant wife Anushka Sharma? Currently, in India, the law only allows paternity leave benefits for government officials. While private entities are pursuing independent policies on the same, would it not help in bringing about a mass shift in our consciousness towards fatherhood, if India were to push central measures for paternity leave?
It’s a sign of changing times that India is even tilting towards the idea of men being equal shareholders in parenthood. Effective implementation is the only natural next step. Let’s step on it!
Views expressed are the author’s own.