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: https://riceinstitute.org/wordpress/research/?did=14