I got an opportunity to participate in a meeting on the issue of fatherhood study in India. I came to know that MenEngage South Asia and Save the Children are also interested in such a study. As far as the fatherhood study is concerned, I think participants/ partners who are involved in responsible fatherhood campaign should write about their own experiences as well as initiate some kind of documentation from their own children – the experience sharing has to start from `ourselves’.
My second concern is about the meaning of `fatherhood’ – how are we defining this? The western society has gone through a transition- from joint-feudal-patriarchal family to nuclear-patriarchal family and in some cases feminist family. Thus, for the western society- a nuclear family or single head family is a common thing and thus, the role of men as fathers becomes very critical in children’s development. The Indian society is passing through this transition but still has its roots in joint-feudal-patriarchal family set-up and in such a situation a single man may not be responsible for fatherhood- the uncles become very important and so we need to have a relook at this. Secondly, whilst we talk about men’s involvement in child caring, we have no clear understanding of what women think about this. My experience tells me that women would like to preserve spaces they have created through struggle against patriarchal family set-ups and would like to preserve the same here. Have we ever thought of this? My experience whilst working for the CHSJ project in Maharashtra tells me that in the name of `helping women’, men are actually curtailing the mobility of women. For example, men have started taking up the responsibility of going to the haat / bazar for daily shopping (which was traditionally done by women) and thus, women have started losing the opportunity to meet other women and interact with them – I can give many examples that have emerged through this project.
My intention of writing this, is to spread the word of caution – let us not initiate something that may in ultimate analysis becomes counterproductive to gender equality.
By Subhash Mendhapurkar