Prof. Tabassum Firdous,
Dr. Rabiya Yaseen Bazaz
“In my entire pregnancy, my husband never accompanied me to the doctor. He even does not know where the clinic is located. I visited the clinic alone and sometimes with my mother. Although my husband remains busy with work he often spares time for visiting relatives and for taking his parents to the doctor”.
The statement recorded by one of the respondents depicts that we often place the heavy burden of pregnancy, from conception to birth, on the shoulders of women.
Pregnancy often comes with some rather unavoidable physical and mental issues. Because of frequent medical intervention, an expectant mother’s body has to be touched for physical examination and is monitored by the Gynaecologists. This process makes the expectant mother needier for social, emotional, physical and financial support. Since a wife and her husband, both are involved in making the pregnancy, therefore, morally and customarily both of them must share the responsibility of caring for the health of the would-be mother and the outcome of pregnancy.
But in a male-dominated society, more often than not, pregnancy and childbirth are primarily treated as the responsibility of the females and not the males. In our society men, and folks are usually associated with active and superior services besides being the main bread earning source. Women, on the other hand, are expected to nurture, give affection and care. Because of these gender roles, pregnancy and childbirth are considered a feminine affair, which, if shared equally, may, in all probability, obstruct men’s self-glorified role in society. It will make it obligatory to support their women during pregnancy.
Support is largely defined here in terms of ‘taking care of pregnant wives during illness, showing affection and care, reminding them of clinic days, giving them a reminder for taking medicine, assisting them to a clinic for antenatal care, facilitating transportation, providing financial assistance, good food,’ and many other pre-requisites.
Here are some of the statements of a couple of males interviewed by field researchers: “Pregnancy is largely women’s issues, men folks haven’t anything to do with it”: “since it is the women who carry a pregnancy, it is largely their affair to look after their selves during the period of pregnancy”; “we earn for the family and remain busy with work, how can we assist our pregnant wives?”
The answers from the males speak of a mindset that is inherited through social evolution. From a philosophical and rationalistic standpoint, the law of nature desires species of all living beings, including humans, to procreate. Procreation is a joint effort of two genders of human beings. Why then should the male specie consider the antenatal care service strange and not relevant to most of them? Men generally assume that issues in the clinic are for women, and, therefore, their presence in the clinic is superfluous. Besides, men folks also prioritise other roles over supporting their partners.
As a part of a variety of indigenous cultures, pregnant women are often forced to stay back at their parents’ residence. “Due to my pregnancy, I was not able to perform household chores actively, and my mother-in-law decided to send me to my mother’s home. During that period my husband hardly provided any financial support to me.” Another respondent said that “I decided to visit my parent’s home because I didn’t receive any care in my husband’s home.” This is atrocious. The first news of pregnancy when broken to an expectant mother sends a chill down her spine. This is because henceforth she is considered a burden and should be transferred to her parent’s home for receiving support and care. This is a most sordid aspect of the primitive approach to pregnancy and matters related to it.
The eternal truth is that pregnancy is a joint responsibility. It is the result of the law of cause and effect. The pregnant woman carries the embryo by way of performing her part of duty. Common sense is that the male actor has to understand that in a state of pregnancy, his wife needs support in every respect so that she can deliver safe after a clinical period. He has to be a partner in ensuring that there is no medical discrepancy that would cause a complicacy. During the period of pregnancy, a worker especially is unable to perform her assigned function properly. She has physical constraints and constraints of mobility. It is her male partner who has to be a helper, caretaker and guide.
Husbands have to understand that the post-pregnancy period means an overall change in the mental frame of their wives. Foremost of everything else, pregnancy suddenly brings to her mind the phenomenon of motherhood. She can envisage by instinct a plethora of responsibilities awaiting her to assume the role of a mother. The main components of these responsibilities are the security, safety, wellbeing, proper nursing and nurturing of the baby. He entire approach to life changes and she walks with very careful steps.
In patriarchal settings, there are strict gender roles which are often adhered to and a high degree of conformity to stereotypical gender expectations takes its toll on both men and women. For example in 2017 study conducted by Maternal Health Task Force and Health reported that maternal mortality is one of the leading causes of death of women in India and listed lack of support from husbands and other family members as one of the factors responsible for maternal mortality in India. This is alarming.
To sum up, it can be said that a set of expectations and roles associated with parenthood are socially constructed to serve the patriarchal society. They are artificially created and neither normal nor natural. In our society men are not socialised from their childhood into a role of a husband and a father just as women are being socialised and prepared for the role of wife and mother. There are no comparable toys such as dolls which give small boys a future model of fatherhood. Many studies have reported that women who receive strong social support from their families, especially their husbands have better maternal health outcomes and remain protected from the sharp increase in the face of a particular stress hormone, making them less likely to experience depression during and after pregnancy.
Given these facts, there is a need for policy intervention to bring home to the male segments that pregnancy and childbirth are a shared responsibility and have to be shouldered jointly.
(The author are Director, Centre for Women’s Studies and Research University of Kashmir and Lecturer, Centre for Women’s Studies and Research University of Kashmir)
Prof. Tabassum Firdous,