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Baby Care: Men's not allowed

Blog Post1 min read

Sitting at the Delhi airport at 5:30 am, I noticed a pair of signs. The first was the official, plastic government-sponsored sign for the family restroom: "Baby Care," illustrated with a diaper. The second, printed on what we used to call computer paper, read "MEN'S NOT ALLOWED."

At r.i.c.e., we're too often forced to reflect that too many women and men agree: babies are women's problem, especially low-ranking young women. Men need not -- and sometimes may not -- get involved. (In a slightly related story, our housekeeper burst into laughing aloud when I, a man, joined Diane to personally give her, who washes my floor, a Holi present earlier this week.)

Of course, one of the things the Baby Care room is for is breast feeding. I have no desire to enter the politics of public breast feeding here, but note that in gender-segregated India, one can understand how this second sign came about. But if you have a baby, sometimes you have to change a diaper. The nearby men's room has 16 urinals, 8 sinks, 4 toilets, a line for the 4 toilets, and nowhere to change a diaper. The assumption that no man would be responsible for a baby is physically built into the shiny, modern airport. (This has come up at the airport before, when a guard explained to me that the reason women are allowed to bring a bag into the arrivals hall but men are not is that women might need to take care of a baby).

Sadly, whether they are allowed or not, many of the modern suit-wearing men sitting with me now in the airport agree that early-life health and human capital formation is not their job. In too many places, the only advocate for next generation's workforce is -- literally -- not allowed to show her face.

For rice research on women's social status and child height, see: http://riceinstitute.org/wordpress/research/?did=14

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r.i.c.e. is a non-profit research organization focused on health and well-being in India. Our core focus is on children in rural north India. Our research studies health care at the start of life, sanitation, air pollution, maternal health, social inequality, and other dimensions of population-level social wellbeing.

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