Text and Video by Tamta Jijavadze
Photos by Thoma Sukhashvili
Fatherhood erupted into Giorgi Chanturia’s life when he was 26 years old -- intracranial pressure meant that his son Sandro cried unceasingly and the lack of sleep was taking a toll on him and his wife. Chanturia, then an employee of the Ministry of Education, took an unusual step for a Georgian man -- he took parental leave.
“Sandro would just not sleep, I was so tired that going to work was like taking a rest,” recalls Chanturia, now 29. “My wife was exhausted, I decided to help her raise our son.”
Chanturia took two months off, using the option of parental leave the Georgian government introduced in 2013 for the private sector and in July 2017 for the public sector. He is one of the few who have done so; in conservative Georgian society, being a father rarely means even changing diapers.
“It was very stressful, I did not leave the house for two months. At the beginning I could not change diapers, then I got used to it. Now, I feel very self-confident. I thought I could not raise a child but later I was babysitting the child by myself, even when my wife got a job that sometimes took her out of town.”
Almost any man can father a child but being a dad requires active engagement in caretaking. Across the world this involvement is increasing for a variety of reasons -- from an employment perspective, for example, mothers work more and, slowly, get paid more, while increased job flexibility means that more fathers work remotely.
The result, research shows, is a positive impact on the children’s social, emotional and cognitive development. But in traditional societies, men taking time off from work to spend time with their children are a rare specimen.
“While mothers have a natural emotional bond with their children, fathers have to build it, through communication and caring,” explains Nino Amonashvili, a Tbilisi-based sociologist whose research focuses specifically on the role fathers play in children’s development. She maintains that parental leave unites the family as the presence of the father provides a psychological and physical support to the mother after the birth.
But there are economic factors too.
“It has an impact on women’s employment. Some employers prefer to hire a man rather than a woman since she is more likely to take time off from work to look after children. If fathers would start applying for leave more often, this will have a positive effect on the employment inequality between men and women,” notes Amonashvili.
Gender stereotypes remain deeply entrenched and Georgians still describe men as helpers and women as caregivers. The socio-economic situation however is pushing the boundaries and clearly cut roles are blurring. Research conducted in Georgia by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in 2018 showed that support for paid paternity leave is growing, albeit slowly, as interviewees believe there is great value in both parents’ involvement in parental responsibilities. The change is mainly driven by an economic necessity, sociologists maintain, and differences run along generational lines with the under-30s urban population more likely to support greater male involvement in childcare.
In Georgia, the legislation and the terms differ between the public and the private sector. A civil servant can take up to 550 days of leave, of which 90 days are paid, but the law on public service states that the employee can apply for it only if the mother is not on leave at the same time. The law specifically uses the expressions “child caring” which applies to fathers or whoever takes care of the child, including for example, if the child is adopted.
The labor code for the private sector specifically refers to “maternity,” “child care,” and “maternity or child case leave of absence,” with no clear indication whether or not a father can apply for parental leave, which is set at a maximum of 730 days over two years. Rights’ groups maintain that the lack of clarity in the law makes it easier for private employers to not grant paternity leave.
“The conditions are better in the public sector, they should be the same,” notes Nutsa Kashakashvili, a lawyer at the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center’s (EMC). “In the private sector, employees received a one-time payment for up to 1,000 laris ($371) [paid by the government from the state budget], while the public sector, which is obliged to grant it, the parent receives the full salary with the regular benefits.” Loopholes in the Georgian legislation give private employers the leverage to avoid granting parental leave to fathers.
In 2014 Shota Kiparoidze, 30, took three months off from work to spend time with his newborn Ana Mari. He received his salary in full from his then employer, a large French hypermarket chain - which was an exception.
“This was due to the good-will of my employer. The human resources department offered me the possibility to take paternity leave, I didn’t even know about it,” remembers Kiparoidze, who did not apply for parental leave when his second child was born three years ago as his new employer is not as open to the practice. Taking holidays, he says, is even a struggle.
Amonashvili maintains that employers play a key role in increasing the number of fathers who used parental leave, yet the number of companies with such a vision can be counted on two hands.
“We think that paternity leave is important because family is important,” explains Tea Lezhava, an internal communication manager at TBC Bank. In 2014, the bank introduced a paternal leave scheme that indifferently applies to mothers and fathers. “We have specific benefits for employees with three children and more and parents applying for child care leave receive full salary up to six months.”
Changing the mindset around paternity leave requires more coordinated effort but those fathers who pioneered it see a strong value in it.
“After I took it more people around me started considering it,” maintains Chanturia. “Looking after your children is not just for mothers, it is a fathers’ job too.”
Masculinities, April/May 2019