Of paternity leave and men who change nappies

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I recently read an article in Mmegi newspaper about men employed in the public service who want to be accorded paternity leave. It’s an interesting idea, which I hope the union will take into consideration because it would allow men to share the responsibilities that come with having a baby.

From the comments I read on the Mmegi facebook page, I realised that some people have a wrong perception of what paternity leave is. Of course a man taking paternity leave doesn’t mean that he’s going to nurse the baby. There are other duties a man can carry out to make things easier for his partner during this period, which includes accompanying the mother for clinic visits, helping with preparing the milk bottle, changing or disposing nappies, burping the baby, and so forth. These tasks may seem menial but they are tiring. A woman in her lie-in period (botsetsi) usually doesn’t have the energy to do all this, and either way, she has to focus on resting, eating right to regain her energy, and bonding with the baby. 

Unfortunately, in our society, it’s still perceived as “taboo” for a man to do household duties, or care for a baby. Our traditional culture dictates that men and women carry out separate duties. Often time, with regard to taking care of a baby, the principle is that only the mother of the child is confined so it’s her sole responsibility to care for the newly born offspring. In Setswana culture, during the lie-in period, her mother, grandmother, mother-in law or any elderly female relative usually assists the woman. 

My special friend argues that men don’t even bother themselves getting involved in certain duties out of fear of rejection, because men are often excluded from child rearing, by virtue of the culturally influenced ideas that men are solely providers, nothing else. 

Batswana say all sorts of negative things about men who assist in the home front. They say that the man, ‘ke sehema’, ‘o jeseditswe moratiso’ or ‘ba mo shapile ka panty’. 

Some people might argue that roping men into what is considered female duties ‘emasculates’ them. However, gender dichotomy is what actually emasculates men… 

We have evolved and the days when women stayed at home doing domestic duties, while men worked, are a thing of the past. Nowadays both men and women work and have the same opportunities, so the line between female and male “things” is becoming blurred. I’m not implying that men and women are the same. They are equal, but not the same….

Furthermore, nowadays the dynamics of family life have changed because relatives live a distance away. Many women have also entered the corporate and business space of work; and need assistance to juggle a career and home duties.  Gone are the days when men would come home, grunt at the kids who would scurry to hide in a corner and sit on the sofa, reading newspaper, asking at intervals, “Kante dijo di butswa leng?” 

There are men who help with the cooking, cleaning, laundry, tending to the children and so forth because they want to, and love their partners. 

Most women do everything because they don’t have a choice. This is informed by tradition. But tradition isn’t always right considering that it’s also stagnant. 

As a modernist feminist of the view that patriarchy and chauvinism robs our society more than it adds value, I believe many women would appreciate more than financial assistance from their partners - and play an integral role in the home and family life.

I plan to increase my brood to “a soccer team” over the years. However, I’m career orientated and have many dreams. Perhaps at that point in my life, I will be busy and globetrotting. It wouldn’t hurt for my partner to take time off to assist on the domestic front, without feeling belittled or inferior.

It’s on this premise that I’m not attracted to so-called traditional men. It’s not only the fragile egos and “issues” that repel me, but I cannot fathom a man who holds back his love and care, based on what society dictates to him – in my eyes, that’s the biggest reflection of being cowardice. 

We need more men helping with raising babies, not only popping out money, playing with the baby when its clean and posing for pictures to post on Facebook, before giving the child back to its mother when the baby cries, or there’s a foul smell signaling a soiled diaper.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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