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Penguin Dads: Changing Gender Norms in India

 
 

Recently I gave birth to a baby boy and hired a trained nurse to look after my son. Although, the nanny we have hired is very efficient, she is not available after 5 p.m. She is a local and has to go back to her own family. After my parents and in-laws left, I was extremely worried about how I would manage at night without any help. But then came the surprise: my husband. From changing diapers to putting the baby to sleep, to staying awake late at night so that I can get some sleep, he fulfilled his role as a father impeccably. My husband is not an exception; he belongs to the growing community of so-called Penguin Dads in India.

Recently Flipkart surveyed 1,700 fathers from 17 cities across India — including major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru — and highlighted how these men are changing the notion of fatherhood in India. The survey indicated that 85 percent of the fathers are part of their children’s daily routine and perform tasks such as putting them to bed, getting children ready for school, and helping their wives in bottle-feeding their infants. In fact, one of the wives remarked that her husband does a better job in doing their daughter’s hair. Topping the survey was Bengaluru, with 91 percent of the fathers being actively involved in their children’s daily affairs. The survey further reveals that 59 percent of the fathers get their children ready for school, 70 percent ensure they spend fun time with their children, and 80 percent attend their children’s school activities. Most of the respondents who took part in the survey indicated that they want to be actively involved in every step of raising their children because it gives them happiness and also because they want to be their child’s best friend.

The survey highlighted surprising but noteworthy results. The active participation of fathers in raising their children suggests that gender roles are gradually changing in India. With the increase of working mothers, more and more fathers are pitching in to support their wives. This changing role for men in the family system also indicates that finally the responsibility of parenthood is being shared equally by both the mother and the father. In particular, the role of the father as a breadwinner of the family is undergoing changes because more women now contribute equally to the finances of the family. Of course, one can argue this is an upper middle class phenomena alone, but nonetheless the change is welcome.

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Recently, the government of India increased maternity leave. The government should take note of the Penguin Dads and introduce paternity leave as well.

Jagriti Gangopadhyay a post-doctoral fellow and faculty at Manipal Center for Philosophy and Humanities.

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