This lockdown has reconfirmed the fact that the gender-based, socially constructed roles can be smashed and that too for good, says Rucha Satoor
The entire world has been facing an unprecedented and difficult times due to COVID-19. Majority of the countries have implemented either complete or partial lockdowns. In India, the initial 21-day lockdown has been extended by the government till May 3, keeping the safety of people in mind.
The situation isn’t new for a majority of Indian women, both rural and urban, who are not allowed to work by their families or have left their careers midway after getting married or becoming mothers. However, men, in both rural and urban settings, are for the first time forced to stay at home for such an extended period. This unusual situation where men are at home, has given rise to two kinds of incidences. On one hand, increase in cases of abuse against women and children are being reported and on the contrary, there are other narratives of men sharing the household chores.
Men are breaking many ‘patriarchal traditions’. A few are entering the kitchen and learning how to cook, some are helping in taking care of children and elderly while others are helping in maintaining a clean house. This lockdown has reconfirmed the fact that the gender-based, socially constructed roles can be smashed and that too, for good.
Fathers are not meant to contribute to the development of their children only financially. They must learn co-parenting and participate in the holistic development of children along with their partners.
In March, when the Corona scare had just started rearing its head, parents were trickling in to pick up food packets for the afternoon from the Milin Nagar Anganwadi Centre in Pimpri-Chinchwad, Pune. Children were at home, safe and sound. Rohini Chittaranjan Joshi, who has been an anganwadi sevika for the last 30 years, was elated to see fathers in the queue. According to her, men have started being actively involved in their child’s development. She has seen this change in the last two years.
“It’s actually funny because some of these men used to come to this same anganwadi centre as children themselves,” Rohini shares. “Now that they’ve grown up into capable men, I don’t need to convince them about the importance of nutrition and childcare as much as I had to, 30 years ago.”
Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is a government programme in India, which provides food, preschool education, primary healthcare, immunisation, health check-up and referral services to children under six years of age and their mothers. Even though the programme used to target mothers as parents, in the last two years, active efforts have been made to ensure that male caretakers are involved too. The Poshan Pakhwada’s key message this year was ‘Men for Nutrition — Increasing Male Involvement in Poshan Abhiyaan to Improve Nutrition Indicators’.
Through public meetings, home visits and the Poshan Pakhwada celebrations, anganwadi workers all over Maharashtra have been equipping fathers to interact with their children, break gender barriers and share more responsibilities around the household. “I demonstrate how fathers can banter with their child while bathing them, washing their hands and feeding them. These instructions are especially welcome by migrant families where the family consists of only parents and children. Men have to take up responsibilities,” shares Rohini.
All the anganwadi sevikas I interacted with mentioned that both fathers and grandfathers are keen to know more about the children. But there are still certain barriers that keep them from being fully involved in their child’s formative years. Kiran Shivsharan, another anganwadi worker from Gautam Nagar, Pimpri, shares, “In my community, male involvement in meetings often deterred mothers from joining in. As women ourselves, we did face some hesitation and perhaps shyness in interacting with men. Moreover, as my anganwadi is quite small, unlike other anganwadis in Maharashtra, both parents cannot fit in every meeting.”
It is not just women who are constrained by the gender norms but men are also restrained by them and are mocked upon if they try to become an exception. “Men from my community started getting involved by performing outdoor chores like registering their pregnant wife with us or getting them for vaccination and periodic visit. With regular counselling provided by anganwadi workers, many fathers have started breaking the barriers by undertaking household chores. This has become an inspiration for many more,” says Meera Pandirkar, an anganwadi worker in Mandangad, Ratnagiri.
Anganwadi workers all over Maharashtra have been taking innovative steps to ensure fathers, who often come from working class families, are reached out to creatively and as per their availability. “I always schedule my home visits on Thursdays. With weekly power cuts on the same day, it becomes easier to talk to them,” says Kiran Shivsharan.
As fishermen in coastal Maharashtra return from sea only in the afternoon, Sunaina Sotekar, anganwadi worker for Valmiki Nagar, Mandangad schedules all the Poshan Pakhwada events during that time to ensure that these men get to attend the community programmes. “I ensure that I keep reiterating the progress of their child every time a father comes to pick up. This ensures that fathers feel more invested in their child’s progress,” shares Meera Pandirkar adding that grandfathers are also slightly easier target group to work with.
Meanwhile, Rohini finds technology helpful to engage fathers. “At the end of every Poshan Pakhwada event, whether it is haat bazaars or palak melawas, I send WhatsApp photos to fathers’ numbers.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, fathers are getting more time with their families. Hopefully, they will learn to put these measures into practice and thus engage in co-parenting during the lockdown and will continue doing so once the world becomes free of this virus.