CONSIDERING Pakistan’s deeply entrenched patriarchal traditions, it was encouraging to note that the cabinet reportedly approved the extension of paternity leave to 10 days for employees of the National Commission on the Status of Women. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari said that efforts were under way to see how this could be “expand[ed] ... across the board”. True, the period of leave granted to fathers of newborns is a drop in the ocean, but at least it is a start. In a male-oriented country such as this, infants and children are generally thought of as the responsibility of women. In short, men feel themselves entirely absolved of the responsibility of childcare, beyond attending to their financial needs. But the world has changed, and even here, familial patterns are changing as increasingly — especially in urban areas — joint family systems are being replaced by the nuclear.
The experience of many Western countries has established the importance and effectiveness of providing not just the facility of paternity leave, but holistic human resource policies geared towards supporting families with working parents. Workplace practices such as leave policies for both parents, flexible work schedules and the ability to work remotely for desk jobs, and healthcare and childcare benefits demonstrably lead to better employee engagement and retention rates. This is especially needed for the working classes, for whom economic vulnerability and the lack of social safety nets are ever present, threatening to plunge them into poverty. All Pakistani government institutions as well as private companies and employers should give it serious consideration. In tandem, though, there needs to be a sustained campaign to change not just workplace practices but also societal mindsets. As paternity leave is being incorporated in the NCSW rules and under consideration elsewhere, it is important for men to be taught that if they avail of it, it is certainly not free time off. A newborn and his or her mother need care and attention, and it is that for which paternity leave is designed.
Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2019