“What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child – it’s the courage to raise one,” said Barack Obama in a speech on Father’s Day in 2008. I recalled this beautiful quote when I thought about the new law regarding paternity leave.
On the 18th of December 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an effective date for parental leave. As of the 1st of January, men became entitled to 10 days of parental leave. This is something to celebrate as a progressive young black man who also identifies as a feminist.
I really got excited about this news, because we talk so much about the involvement of fathers in their children’s lives and yet did nothing practical about it. I hope that throughout their 10 leave days, fathers to newborns will get to bond with their bundles of joy.
However, I do have concerns regarding this. How are we going to know that the men who take paternity leave (parental leave) are actually taking full parental responsibilities?
Unfortunately, the effectiveness of a progressive law such as this one does not change behaviour. It does not automatically change the prescribed gender roles that our society has defined ages ago. The conservative, cultural or traditional ways in which men are raised can’t be eradicated by laws. What I mean by that is this: in most parts of our society, we have labelled childcare duties part of a women’s “natural responsibility”. It’s a gender roles struggle.
The truth of the matter is, childcare is not a women’s issue, nor an afterthought issue. It is both a social and economical priority. I think one could be very right to even classify it as an emotional or psychological priority.
I believe there are men who will be making the most of those 10 days. I hope the dads will be excited about changing nappies, bathing their babies, putting their babies to sleep, and possibly preparing milk bottles for them, especially first-time dads.
I hope and pray that South African men don’t take these 10 days as an opportunity for a Mogodu Monday with their boys at their favourite eat-out spot, or take this time to specifically go play FIFA TV games over a few bottles of beer with their mates.
It should be an exciting time for fathers to look forward to. I also hope that, with time, the stigma around child rearing by men will be a thing of the past. I hope our malls will have more baby change rooms in the male toilets or just more unisex change rooms.
I have heard that it only takes seven days to develop a new habit. So, with their extra three days, surely the fathers would have developed healthy and progressive habits with their babies.
May those habits relieve the mothers who have to breastfeed, and turn men into great childcare givers who will eventually have more than 10 days for paternity or parental leave in my life time.
Kabelo Chabalala is the founder and chairperson of the Young Men Movement (YMM), an organisation that focuses on the reconstruction of the socialisation of boys to create a new cohort of men. Email, firstname.lastname@example.org ; Twitter, @KabeloJay; Facebook, Kabelo Chabalala
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