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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Do men need paternity leave?

Do men need paternity leave?

Words by Francis Kahihu

The new labour laws passed last year elicited a lot of debate from both employers and employees. At the heart of the controversy was the Employment Act 2007 that provided for women employees to have three months maternity leave, in addition to their annual leave. This has been met with resistance from the employers who feel that four months is a very long time for an employee to be away from their duty station. This is said to increase the cost of production since employers have to keep providing orientation to new staff covering for the ladies away on maternity. Female employees on their part feel this is a God sent opportunity to enable them take care of their babies for a little longer period before resuming office duties.

Apparently, there is rarely a mention of an equally drastic rule that was passed alongside the expanded maternity leave. The introduction of a two week paternity leave has passed unnoticed. We are barely hearing any debate on the implications of the leave. Why is our society so quiet about this? Is it an indicator of the lack of interest we have on the need for paternity leave? If so, who were the proponents of paternity leave? Might it have been made as a suggestion that went through the readings and was later divorced after birth? Was it a mistake made by our legislators? Are there men out there who can make a case on the need for paternity leave, or could an amendment comfortably pass through parliament to abolish the paternity leave without resistance from the male dominated tenth parliament.

Generally, men are not associated with taking care of babies immediately after birth. The period after a lady is delivered of a baby is often perceived by our society as a season for the mother to bond and interact, not only with her baby but also with her women folk. Men hence have been shoved off, or have they pushed themselves off? In our culture, men find little to do around the home when their spouse (or mother of their baby) is on maternity leave. Society has taught the man that his place is out-there seeking for a livelihood for the newborn. Women fill the home from dawn to dusk hence leaving the men with no space to operate from should they desire to be at home with the nursing mother.

The other day, I overheard a group of ladies talking and one quipped ‘having men on paternity leave will be such a bother for a nursing woman. We would rather have them away…out there with the other men.’ This was echoed by a number of men who also felt the need to let the nursing woman and her womenfolk have their space. One man told me that paternity leave will be a great opportunity to follow up after business prospects. It is hence a chance to make an extra coin, not anything near the intended purpose of supporting the nursing mother take care of the baby. ‘I need to get the coin to support the expanded expenditure’ said one man who insisted that paternity leave should have been provided for a month to enable him do more business out of conventional employment.

Despite the lack of excitement related to the provision of paternity leave, I have met several gentlemen who made some sense out of the proposed leave. The current breakdown of social ties has led to families leading rather isolated lifestyles, especially in the urban areas. We rarely know our next door neighbour. This implies the lack of adequate support that a lady would get from other women in the neighbourhood at childbirth. The man is then expected to offer the much needed support to the nursing mother.

For whatever reason, an increasing number of ladies are being delivered of babies through the caesarean section. This tends to lengthen the period of time within which the mother is fully recovered and strong to tend for herself and the baby. For a couple of weeks, the mother is bedridden, and in need of help as much as the baby. She then critically needs support around the clock. It is then expected that only the father of the baby should be available for that long. This is a duty the man of the home ought not to delegate to other women.

At times, there is the need to accompany the nursing lady for medical checkups after delivery. This may be required as a matter of urgency after birth hence the need to have the man available on call. The man would also be expected to run several errands around the home including shopping or picking guests from the nearby bus stage as child birth is known to assemble persons who would have been apart for several months. It serves as an opportunity to link up with long-not-seen friends hence many guests plan to visit nursing friends they have not met for long.

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