Should Indian women get eight months maternity leave?

An admirable proposal but in India it is utopian.

 |  2-minute read |   19-09-2015
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Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi has proposed that the three-month maternity leave presently granted to working women under the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961, to be increased to eight months. This proposal has been approved by a committee of secretaries, which effectively comes within weeks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "in-principle nod".

If the amendments are made to the Maternity Benefits Act then India will be among countries that offer the best benefits for mothers across the world. While the US has no national programme for maternity leave, Germany, Japan, and New Zealand offer 14 weeks of paid leave. Most of Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries, offer great benefits, ranging from nine months of leave to even a year.

The question here is are we ready to adopt Scandinavian/European standards for working women in India, in a country that is struggling for basic rights for women? Importantly will the eight-month maternity leave really benefit women? Or will it in deep irony prove to be detrimental?

Seventy five per cent of women in India are employed in the unorganised sector and work without any benefits. This legislation would only make an impact on the 25 per cent working in the organised sector.

That said why shouldn't the 25 per cent benefit? But will they is the big question. By doing so, will we create yet another hiring hurdle for them? How many of us over the age of 25 interviewing for jobs have been directly asked if we were looking to "start a family" - we all know what the right answer to that is. How many HR management heads can honestly say that hiring a woman at a "certain age", "a prime candidate for pregnancy" is never a concern? In all possibility, the eight-month clause will be a negative when a woman is looking to be hired. Sadly, most organisations still feel that they will be saddled with eight months of pay for no work!

For decades, women have been punished with lower wages and missed promotions after they had become mothers. So by simply changing the fine print can we actually shift mindsets... No we can't. It's not easy being a woman in India and a lot many battles need to be fought and won before we look at eight-months maternity leave. Tough luck! But if we have come this far then eight months is not far just not right now.

Also read: Will Modi sarkar's maternity leave reforms make women pay for motherhood?

Writer

Preeti Choudhry Preeti Choudhry @preetichoudhry

The writer is a journalist with India Today TV.

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