Fight for gender equality ignores the rights of fathers

Fight for gender equality ignores the rights of fathers

Date: January 1, 1970
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Many people often complain about men who do not take responsibility for their children. Yet the fight for gender equality and parental rights has largely ignored the other side of the equation, men who are denied the right to equal time and access to their children. Responsibilities and rights go hand in hand.

The Employment Act in Botswana makes provision for maternity leave, but is silent on the issue of paternity leave. Of late men in the country are demanding change. Parental leave is the right to take time off work to care for one’s child or make welfare arrangements for the child.
Ideally, this includes maternity leave for mothers and paternity leave for fathers. There are two parents for every child, and in a changing world where both partners are likely to have a job, paternal leave ought to be considered.
President for Tertiary and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) Allan Keitseng says they have had discussions aimed at drafting new public service laws which will have a provision for paternity leave. He said the government is hesitant in such issues despite being the biggest employer in the country. Workers at shop level (not in top positions) are not aware that they can demand paternity leave as the leadership is not sensitising them about it since they believe it’s an unnecessary luxury.
Some women also oppose paternity leave on the basis that men are not competent to care for children. Marang Morakaladi says she does not see the need for paternity leave as, “no man would do a good job like a mother would and no woman would feel at ease having left a man in charge of the baby.”
Morakaladi concedes that some men can be good caretakers but argues that mothers are at an advantage due to “a mother’s instincts.” She says this is not a stereotype: “it’s just being realistic.”
Tshepo Kwapa, Founder of Voice of Men, an organisation that fights for men’s rights to their children, supports the need for paternity leave. He believes men and women should have equal rights when it comes to being involved in their children’s lives as currently the law only favours women over men.
Having looked after his seven months old baby for a month all alone, Kwapa knows that given the chance men can also look after babies equally well. With the advent of disposable nappies, ready-made baby foods, washing machines and feeding bottles things have been made easier for men too.
Kwapa notes that he is aware that there is the possibility that some men, if granted paternity leave, might use it for other purposes.  However, he argues that if maternity leave benefits the baby, then so should paternity leave.
In the case of single parent homes, father-deprivation in Botswana is quite common, even when fathers are financially supporting their children. Take the case of Rra Theo*, a student at the University of Botswana and father of a two-year-old boy. 
Due to his precarious financial situation, his parents help out by providing for his son.
Rra Theo provides financial support for his son on his meager monthly allowance of P 1700.00 while the mother of the child is a permanent and pensionable professional.
Rra Theo is now in debt to the tune of P7000.00, which he incurred from buying clothes for his son on credit. Furthermore, he buys groceries for the family and is forced to slaughter a goat monthly to provide relish for his son. Although, he is providing for his son, he is denied access to the child.
Some women like Basadibotlhe Keorapetse, a mother to a four year old, believe that it is the father’s responsibility to take care of the child financially. She is adamant that “Love does not put food on the table, doesn’t pay school fees and health bills.”
Basadibotlhe says she sneaks her child out to see the father because her parents do not allow her partner access, as Setswana culture dictates that the father must pay damages before he can be in contact with the child.
Tshepo Kwapa claims that the current law is not fair on single fathers. He notes that “fathers’ wishes are often overlooked as the woman decides whether or not to involve the man in the child’s life and sometimes efforts by the father to establish a bond with the child are shot down by mothers.” 
By virtue of a woman giving birth, she automatically has the right to the child. This can be unfair to the child, as they will benefit from the love and support of both parents. Voice of Men is working with organisations like Emang Basadi, Women Affairs Department and Ditshwanelo to ensure that fathers have access to their children.
There is a need to hold all men and women accountable for providing the best possible life for the children they bring into this world. Yet at the same time, men who want an active and caring role in their children’s lives should be afforded the opportunity to do so. It’s all in the best interest if the child.
* not his real name.

Lorato Bailang, Botlhe Moseki, Thato Enosa and Bathami Chilume produced this article during a Gender Links “Business Unusual” training workshop as part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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