Learning to be a Dad

Date: January 1, 1970
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Forty years ago Hemraz Jankee, former Mayor of Vacoas/Phoenix in Mauritius never thought that he would need training to become a dad. He also did not think that two women could light his way to become a caring man.

It was only when his son was born in 2002 that he faced the sweet reality. Men can be caring. Men do have emotions. Men can clean the house, cook dinner, change and bath a baby. He learned to become a real dad doing the multiple jobs with his wife and his mother as his two “gurus.”
“I was brought up in an orthodox Hindu family where girls did not have the same facilities and outlets as boys,” said Jankee. “My brothers and I were allowed to go out, play football and meet friends while my sisters had to remain in the house and help with household chores. My parents were very severe with them. We were allowed to go out at night while my sisters had to remain at home.” 
Despite this background, he is now at ease doing everything in the house including looking after his son. “When my wife comes back home tired, I am the one who takes over all household chores and I do it with pleasure. I do not have any problems when my wife is not in Mauritius. I cope very well with everything including looking after my only child who is a boy. I would like to add here that for me it does not make any difference having a boy or a girl. All children are equal just like wife and husband should be equal. I am sure my child will grow up with the same gender sensitivity.”
Jankee was interviewed as part of research for “At the Coalface: Gender and Local Government in Southern Africa”, produced by Gender Links, a Southern African non-governmental organisation (NGO) specialising in gender, governance and the media. According to the research, despite the fact that women constitute over half of those who go to university and are prominent in all the professions, women’s political participation, in all areas, is among the lowest in the region in Mauritius. 
Though the parliamentary elections in 2005 saw the proportion of women increase from six to 17 percent, this is still far from the 30% and even further from the 50% targets set by the Southern African development Community (SADC). At local level, representation of women is a paltry 6.4 percent; the second lowest in the region, after Angola.
Jankee has tried to put what he learned in the home into practice in his work. When he became a mayor in 1995, Jankee set up a Federation of Women’s Association of Vacoas-Phoenix, which includes around 50 women’s organisations.
“Women organisations were doing their own little thing individually and sometimes not knowing what they were up to,” he explained. “I therefore decided to group them under one very well structured umbrella with a proper budget, so that they can organise a wide range of activities.”
“They have access to the cultural centre of the Council,” Jankee adds, “Art and craft, sculpture, music and dance competition are organised for them on a regular basis. They get free transport for educational tours as well as for entertaining themselves at the beach.”
Jankee acknowledges that it is not right for a council of 22 members to have only two women when women make up 52 percent of the Mauritian population. “Because of their multiple roles, it is difficult to get women in the political arena. Meetings are held quite late at night and women have to look after the family after a day’s work, it is therefore difficult to attend meetings.”
He agrees that one way of helping women to get a foot in municipal council is to remunerate them. “If they get an allowance or a salary, they can work as councillor’s full time. Unlike members of parliament, we are more like social workers. We are close to the community and women are very good at that. Being a councillor is the first step to become a member of parliament.” 
Jankee is keen that both women and men in the council undergo training on a range of issues: drugs, HIV and AIDS, gender discrimination, sexual harassment to the rights of the girl child. “I want my male councillors to know that women are as capable as men. I want them to grasp all the societal problems women are facing and find ways and means to deal with them.”
Jankee believes that male councillors must know how to communicate with women, how to get them interested in politics and how to help them with problems they are facing. “We want to work in partnership with women. This is the only way to achieve inclusive democracy. And who knows may be we will find our future councillors among these women.” 
Loga Virahsawmy is the President of Media Watch Organisation in Mauritius. This article, an excerpt from ‘At the coalface: Gender and local government in Southern Africa,” is part of a special series for the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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