Paternity leave in Pakistan has officially been extended to ten days. This means that, up to twice in one’s entire career—at least as a government employee—a man can take ten days of paid leave. Apparently in the private sector, even that isn’t a guarantee. Notes from the Underground has ruminated on the paucity of maternity leave before, but before one pats oneself on the back for this paternity leave, one should certainly be ruminating about it as well.

It’s a woman’s job, most people—mostly men—will say. Even ten days is a bonus, previously there wasn’t even one day. But comparing anything to zero to feel better about something is a sure indicator of the bare minimum to begin with, and that is precisely what these ten days are. Paternity leave—the paid or unpaid leave of absence a workplace grants a man with a new baby—is a new concept in our part of the world, but in many European countries paternity leave is considered just as important as maternity leave. In countries like Sweden (of course, Scandinavians are always ten steps ahead of everyone else), paternity leave is as long as 16 months! The idea is that a baby is part of a family unit, and if there are two partners involved in the raising of that child then they should be allowed time off from making money for their companies to do so. The family unit should not, within reasonable limits, be supplanted by the capitalist one. For cultures that pride themselves on their emphasis on family, such as ours, it would seem an obvious choice to make, that fathers be present at home during the crucial initial phase of having a newborn in the house. After all, family comes first, doesn’t it? And are women and children not the backbone of said family? We love to place all our honour in the laps of our women and all our pride in the achievements and obedience of our children, so naturally it makes sense for the workplace to take a backseat to the family.

Except that really isn’t the case, is it. ‘Family’ is something men use when the narrative of control, power, money and honour suits them, but the actual business of raising, nurturing and fostering a family—well, that’s women’s work. Because biology has meant that women bear children, patriarchies are quick to box women and men firmly into their biological boxes and leave them there whether they can breathe or not. Of course, the actual birthing of a baby is down to a woman. We all know this. But a family is not created by the act of giving birth. A family happens when adults work together to create a home that provides a safe and loving environment in which children can thrive. That’s not just women’s work. It is reductive and unjust to men—and this is what feminism reiterates, for the skeptical—to assume that men are not nurturing, or are somehow incapable of being involved, kind and empathetic in any role. The problem of paternity leave illustrates this all too clearly—fathers haven’t got much to do with child-rearing, so let them go to work. But who suffers, if fathers of new babies go to work? The baby and the baby’s mother. Who suffers if fathers of new babies stay home? The employer, who will make a little less money for a few days. If you work in an organisation, then think for a minute about the opportunity cost, and which should be more important: your family, or your boss? Is bonding with your spouse and baby, relationships that will bolster and support you throughout your entire life, precious time you can’t get back, the priority, or a corporation in which you are a cog to make some more profit off your work?

Paternity leave isn’t only about fathers being more involved in their family life. It’s about capitalism too, and how we are all constantly being exploited and used to make profits and told that this is preferable to all else. Men in patriarchies are told they are effete and sissy if they want to stay home to help bathe their newborns and cuddle them and learn how to change a diaper, because that’s what paternity leave means if you really do it properly. For a man who is delighted to be a father, who really and truly wants to bask in the wonder of a newborn—because this is a human response, born of a deeply instinctive urge in us all—where is the space for him? Ten days, that’s all, just about two weeks if you add weekends. Then it’s back to 9-to-5-you-hope, back to traffic jams on the commute home, back to excel sheets and annoying clients and the desk chair with the wobbly wheel. Capitalism and patriarchies work together to shut men out of so many meaningful human experiences, and fatherhood is possibly amongst the most important ones. You dodged a bullet, other men will say. Who wants to be home with a floppy, crying baby? Maybe if more fathers took paternity leave seriously, more fathers would have the space to say me, I’d like to be home with my wife and my baby. I’d like to hold my baby and feel their breath on my neck and not have to worry about finishing a report or closing accounts for a few weeks. It would be nice, it really would, to be allowed that special time.

 

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

 m.malikhussain@gmail.com

@cyclestand4.