Mumbai (Maharashtra) [India], April 19 (ANI): The entire world has been facing one of the most 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 for another 19 days till May 3, 2020. The lockdown 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.
Men, again in both rural and urban settings, are for the first time forced to stay at home for this long. With men at home, there are two kinds of incidences happening within the four walls - on one hand, increase in cases of abuse and violence against women and children are being reported and on the contrary other narratives of men sharing the household chores are being shared.
Men are breaking the 'patriarchal traditions' and entering the kitchen. Many who can't cook are learning to do it, some are helping taking care of children and elderly while others are helping in maintaining cleanliness in houses.
This lockdown has reconfirmed the fact that the gender-based, socially constructed roles can be smashed and for good. Fathers are not meant to contribute to the development of their children only financially - they must learn the art of 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 of the afternoon 'khau' from the Milin Nagar Anganwadi Centre in Pimpri-Chinchwad, Pune.
Children were kept safe at home. Rohini Chittaranjan Joshi, who has been an Anganwadi Sevika for the last 30 years, was elated to see fathers in the queue. As per her, men have started getting actively involved in their child's development in the last two years only.
"It's actually funny because some of these men used to come to this same Anganwadi Centre as children themselves," said Chittaranjan.
"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," she added.
Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is a government programme in India which provides food, preschool education, primary healthcare, immunization, health check-up and referral services to children under 6 years of age and their mothers.
Even though the programme used to be targeted for mothers as parents, in the last two years, active programmatic efforts are being made to ensure that male caretakers are involved too. The PoshanPakhwada's key message this year was "Men for Nutrition - Increasing Male Involvement in PoshanAbhiyaan 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 their own 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," said Joshi.
All the Anganwadi Sevikas interacted with mentioned that both fathers and grandfathers are keen to know more about the child. But there are still certain barriers that keep men from being fully involved in their child's formative years.
"In my community, male involvement in meetings often deterred mothers from joining in. As women ourselves, we did face some hesitancy and perhaps shyness in interacting with men. Moreover, as my Anganwadi is quite small, unlike other Anganwadis in Maharashtra, both parents cannot fit in for every meeting," said Kiran Shivsharan, another Anganwadi worker from Gautam Nagar, Pimpri.
It is not just women who are constrained by the gendered norms, men are also tied by these roles and are mocked upon if they try and 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," said Meera Pandirkar, another Anganwadi worker in Mandangad, Ratnagiri.
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," she added.
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," said Kiran Shivsharan.
As fishermen in coastal Maharashtrareturn from the 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 their child. This ensures that fathers feel more invested in their child's progress," said Meera Pandirkar adding that grandfathers are also slightly easier target group to work with.
"At the end of every Poshan Pakhwada event, whether it is Haat Bazaars or Palak Melawas, I send WhatsApp photos to fathers' numbers," said Joshi.
With the COVID 19 outbreak, fathers are getting more time to spend with their families. Hopefully, they will learn the art of co-parenting during the lockdown and will continue doing so once the world becomes free of COVID-19.
The views expressed in the article are that of Rucha Satoor from Charkha Development Communication Network. (ANI)