By Almas Shamim

I grew up in a conventional small town family. Every morning my mummy woke me up with her love showering on me. She dressed me up, rushed around the kitchen preparing breakfast for the family and waited to smilingly wave a ‘good bye’ when I left for school. I never went to school alone. My father dropped me to school on his scooter and then proceeded to one of the government offices in Port Blair for work. Mummy stayed home as a dedicated housewife.

This same pattern has been followed for generations in most cultures- without too much questioning. Some say that this division of labour, with man being the bread winner of the family and woman being the care taker and nurturer, was prescribed by none other than the Great God Him/Her/Itself. Some others believe that it is humans who, out of necessity, created this gendered division of labour. In any case, with time necessities change and soon women and sometimes even the men felt that women can and should play a larger role. So, from being someone who provided unpaid service at home, her role was expanded to become a bread-winner that shares the burden of earning money for the family. So, while she continued to do all that she did earlier, she also started doing a lot more. She started earning respect (because money commands respect in our society) but all this development proved a big hindrance in her fully achieving her role as a mother. She was forced to either quit her job or be a part-time mother to her child. This problem continues till date. But, we won’t talk about it now!

What we will talk about it how this act of choosing between a career and a maternal role is a problem only for women. It’s only women who have to ‘choose’. It’s only women who are questioned by society, whatever be her choice. Men, usually, go free from blame. Few, if any, would even think whether a man should give more preference to his job or to his children. The choice has already been made by the society. A man should go out and earn, the mother can bother with the children. This gendered role division, though appears to be empowering the men by giving them the freedom to pursue a career of their choice, is highly discriminatory against men- as much as it is discriminatory against women.

So, while we keep raising questions about how women have a right to pursue their career and not be caught in the web of ‘home labour’, we do not question enough the logic that keeps a man from being the father that he desires to be- get enough time to spend with his child, be able to do little things like changing diapers more often. The gendered society that we live in shapes us (both men and women) to believe that men do not ‘crave’ for bonding time with their children. This belief then takes away the responsibility of child ‘nurturing’ completely from men and place it entirely on women. 

We hear demands for paid maternity leave, so that a woman gets enough time with her child but we don’t see enough demand for paternity leave. Assuming a family where the father is present, he too has the right to contribute to the complete growth of the child. While there are some organizations offering paternity leave- MUCH more still remains to be done.

The same goes with establishing crèches and play-schools in offices. The demand usually goes in the lines of “There are many ladies in our office who have young children……” even though it would make so much more sense if the line was “Among our office employees there are many who are parents…” This rhetoric strengthens the notion that it is only women who would be desirous or who should be concerned about bringing children with them- as if a man is incapable of doing it or wishing for it.

This gendered division of labour follows a logic that may have suited a time and culture- but we are now past it. We are living in times when roles have expanded, roles have switched and demands for equitable role division are on the rise. Let us also try to adapt to changing times in healthier ways- let us realize the social, economic and health benefits that ‘father-child time’ has on the family as a whole and vouch for it whenever we can. Maybe we can begin with demanding equal paid maternity as well as paternity leave from our offices and companies? Or maybe we can organize together and make arrangements for crèches and playschools on our own?  In the least, we can be AWARE and help to spread the word to other adults and also to our children in the hope that maybe the next generation will have a more gender equal society than we have created for ourselves. 

Almas Shamim is a public health specialist with a great interest in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and feminism among Muslim women. She currently works for an international humanitarian aid organization in New Delhi and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.