Raising childrenMen and women should share equal responsibility for childcare
The role of childbearing is naturally ascribed to women. It is her biology that is prone to changes, not that of the husband’s. It is her life, education and career that would need adjustments. No doubt, fathers also take responsibility for childcare, but only a few do so. The Human Development Report 2015 of the UN shows that even in countries where transferrable paternal leave is provided, few men take it. In Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland, where paternal leave is transferrable, only about three percent of fathers use it. According to a 2013 report of the Action Aid, entitled ‘Making Care Visible: Women’s unpaid care work in Nepal, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya,’ in Nepal, women spend 71 minutes a day on childcare whereas men spend only about 30 minutes.
“My husband is very busy in his work. My little child has become my sole responsibility. Sometimes, I do not get a wink of sleep and feel like I am ready to drop. I fear that I will not get the promotion that I was
supposed to, since I am not able to perform well at the office,” one of my bright colleagues distressfully told me. Whether in the rich or the poor families, childbearing affects the lives of women in terms of
their economic independence, autonomy, mobility and opportunities for
From pregnancy until about three years of a child’s age, a woman’s entire attention is centered on the child. Further, until the child gets through basic education, it becomes nearly impossible for the mother to detach herself from the child. Meanwhile, the father can even move abroad for career opportunities. It becomes too arduous for the woman to only focus on her career, and has to incur the risks of losing economic opportunities. In Nepal, the major reason for married women to be economically inactive is having small children to look after (32 percent), according to the Nepal Demographic Health Survey 2011(NHDS).
Fertility and poverty
The Situation is worst for women from poor nuclear families. Child rearing responsibilities oblige them to be out of the labour force when they are actually in need of more money. As per a 2013 article by Tate, over the ages 15-49, each birth takes a woman out of the labour force by an average of almost two years. It spells even more trouble for poor mothers who are divorced, widowed or married to migrants as they are compelled to take their babies to their workplace, which poses threat to the babies’ health. Making things worse, women belonging to poor families tend to have more children. NDHS 2011 reveals that women in the lowest wealth quintile have an average of 4.1 births, nearly three times as many as women in the highest quintile. While women from upper and middle classes struggle to keep pace with their autonomy and career, for poor women, the battle is about sustaining a hand-to-mouth existence. If this kind of situation persists, the country may witness turmoil in fertility and poverty level. Women from upper and middle classes may avoid motherhood, while poor women may be forever trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.
No doubt, childbearing is the natural role of women but is childcare the responsibility of the women only? Certainly, men should share the responsibility of childcare and even the state should bear some responsibility for it.
Sweden has one of the most successful childcare policies in the world. It has a highly flexible parental leave scheme that allows and urges both parents to spend time with their children. The mother and the father together are entitled up to 16 months of paid leave per child. Of this, 13 months are paid at 80 percent and the remaining three months are paid at a flat rate. Out of the total 16 months, each parent has a personal, nontransferable entitlement to two months of paid parental leave. The remaining 12 months can be freely shared between parents. These kinds of policies help in redistributing and reducing the childcare responsiblity of women.
Our government has also taken some steps towards easing childcare. It provides paid parental leave—60 days for mother and 15 days for father. There is a daycare center at Singha Durbar for the children of government employees. The Ministry of Education has implemented school-based and community-based Early Childhood Education and Development Programme, where mostly children above three years are enrolled. However, these few interventions have not been able to distribute childcare work sufficiently. Not all men are involved in childcare during their paternal leave. In addition, not all groups benefit from these arrangements. Poor women working in the informal sector with children below three years of age do not benefit from any of these privileges. These situations bear witness to the fact that childcare is a thought-provoking issue that demands the attention of the government and the concerned stakeholders.
Subedi is a student of the Women Studies Programme at Padma Kanya Multiple Campus