I grew up in a traditional Tamil household. For most of my childhood, I was taken care of by women; it was them I turned to when my clothes needed washing, when I needed food or when I hurt myself playing outside. My father, an unusually strong and resilient figure, always encouraged and supported us. But in the early years, every household chore was handled carefully by my mother. Then, in the early 2000s, something changed. My mother's cancer diagnosis left my whole family scrambling. Watching my father suddenly step up to try and manage everything from cooking, cleaning, arranging school drop offs and medical care was an experience that was both overwhelming and amusing. That year, my sisters and I learned as much about our father's challenges, as he learned about our lives.
Men's contributions to childcare and household work are increasing, but in no country in the world are they equal to those of women.
Years later, a commercial for laundry detergent has brought the conversation back to caregiving and fatherhood. Procter & Gamble's campaign for Ariel India asking fathers to "#Sharetheload" has sparked a global conversation on men participating and "sharing the load" at home. But why are we choosing to ignore the larger problem?
Let's talk about fatherhood
Fatherhood is in urgent need of a revival. According to the "State of the World's Fathers" report done by MenCare and Promundo in 2015, nearly 80% of the world's men and boys will become fathers in their lifetime--and while on the whole, men's contributions to childcare and household work are increasing, in no country in the world are they equal to those of women.
Unpaid household work--caregiving, cooking, cleaning and so on--is essential to raise healthy children, who in turn become adults who give back to the economy. Yet, the task almost entirely falls on women. Two years ago, a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development highlighted that Indian men spend a mere 19 minutes per day on unpaid work, leaving women to take on about 10 times more than their share. As a result, like most women around the world, they participate less in the global workforce and are left at a disadvantage performing both paid and unpaid work. Children, who don't get enough time with the working parent rely heavily on one at home.
Indian men spend a mere 19 minutes per day on unpaid work, leaving women to take on about 10 times more than their share.
To end this cycle and advance as a society, the way we perceive fatherhood has to change. More importantly, men and boys must be empowered with the agency to participate at home without judgment.
Across the world, 79 countries have taken basic measures to implement paternity leave policies, but the involvement of fathers in caregiving is still not perceived as valuable. It's not just patriarchal societal norms that limit men, it is an entire system that leaves them out in key policies that involve caregiving. Recently, MenCare introduced a new 10-point parental leave platform that makes a strong case for the benefits of parental leave--when it is paid, equal, and non-transferable for women and men--and provides guidance for policy-makers, non-profits and companies. But the heavy silence around the important role of fathers, and the idea of gender equality at home, is telling.
The need for paternity education
Undeniably, the reluctance to discuss caregiving is linked to a general discomfort around disengaging with traditional ideas of masculinity. Ravi, a 46-year old man from Jharkhand who participated in MenCare's Father Care Campaign in 2013 said that he was simply "embarrassed" to do household chores. It was only when he began trying to do chores in his wife's absence that he grew comfortable doing them. This helped lessen the burden on his 16-year-old daughter, who might have had to take care of household duties in his wife's absence. Now, he actively works with men in his village to urge them to actively participate more at home.
Since household work and caregiving are unpaid and seen as 'unskilled', many men are wracked with insecurities about going against what is considered socially acceptable...
Ravi's dilemma isn't new. Since household work and caregiving are unpaid and seen as 'unskilled', many men are wracked with insecurities about going against what is considered socially acceptable in their communities. In fact, some tend to 'communicate' to their children only through their wives, seldom taking on the task of parenting directly. But it often takes small steps to lead the transformation. Take the case of former state-level wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, who encouraged his daughters to break gender stereotypes and excel in the world of Indian wrestling. The Phogat sisters stand today as a shining example of what's possible when fathers play an active role in a child's life early on.
Families thrive when fathers are involved in every aspect of family life. In India, more and more fathers are sharing their stories and talking about their challenges. Stay at home dads (SAHDs) are even openly embracing their role at home, taking on caregiving actively and breaking the stereotype around 'women's work'.
Families thrive when fathers are involved in every aspect of family life.
A few private companies are taking a step forward in implementing paternity leave policies. Parenting literature is changing for the better as well. Global websites like Fatherly, Fodder for Fathers and FQ are among several sites targeting young fathers. Whether it is about preparing for the birth of a child or learning about raising teenagers, the growing call for equality at home is driving the demand for more information about fatherhood and caregiving.
This is a healthy, progressive trend that we must all play a role in nurturing.
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