In March this year, an amendment was made to the Maternity Benefit Act which now allows women employees to get paid maternity leave of up to 26 weeks, up from 12 weeks. The amendment  has made changes in some of the provisions of an over-55-year-old law entitling certain benefits to women employees.

The new law also makes it mandatory for every establishment with 50 or more employees to have the facility of creche within a prescribed distance. The employer is also bound to allow four visits a day to the creche by a woman employee. Every establishment shall intimate in writing and electronically to every woman employee at the time of her initial appointment regarding every benefit available under the new law, the statute says. An employer can also permit a woman to work from home after she has availed maternity leave.

Doesn’t that paint a rosy picture? You can already see the men groaning and complaining ‘what about paternity leave?’, at least that is what I heard when I discussed this among friends and co-workers.

Are women being given more than their due? Certainly not.

Instead, this new amendment is detrimental to the female workforce. When it was 12 weeks of Maternity Leave only there were murmurs and grumblings in the management corridors. Now a 26-week leave, will not that create more problems?

Ria Galgotia, was working as a Chartered Accountant in a reputable firm in Noida, Delhi. When she fell pregnant with her first child, she was being considered for a training trip to London and was going to be given a management position as well. First, she lost out on the London trip, then slowly she even lost out on her job. The company made no efforts to hide their displeasure and did not even make her work there pleasant. She was repeatedly asked to stay late in the night for work, chastised for taking bathroom breaks and more. After she finished her maternity leave, she was asked to resign. Ultimately pained physically and stressed mentally she quit the job.

When she wanted to get back to the workforce, every potential recruiter posed this question, ‘Why such a long break from work?’.

When she mentioning her maternity leave, immediately the tone changed and the job discussion centered around  how would she guarantee work with a child at home.
 

I wonder why this question is not asked to a man when he comes back from a sabbatical  or from a paternity leave? Recruiters have acknowledged that recruiting newly married women and pregnant women is a difficult affair for them, more so if they are in a senior position. Management usually gives them set budget and no one will like to spend money on an employee who will remain absent from work for a large period of 12 or 26 weeks. It’s like betting on a lame horse.

Establishing a crèche for the mothers will mean extra money which means it will probably eat into the establishment’s canteen or entertainment funds and then allowing mothers to be with their children four times a day will result in loss of productive hours. Why would a company opt for this? Isn’t the easiest way to not recruit such women in the first place? Well, that’s what they all do.

The change is needed in the maternity leave policy as well as mentality of recruiters as well.

Women should be recruited on the basis of capability and expertise rather than marital status or pregnancy. Now, more than before you will find employment of women falling, because no company wants a non-worker who gets a paid leave.

Pregnancy, is a biological process and it has its limitations as well. Some women consider putting off childbirth or opt for surrogacy, however, majority of the women do not have that option. Penalising them for it is not done. Until we broaden our mindsets nothing is going to come out of this so-called progressive move.

Many laws are passed in the name of empowering women, but in actually it ends up doing the opposite. According to the United Nations, women’s empowerment mainly has five components:

  • Generating women’s sense of self-worth;
  • Women’s right to have and to determine their choices;
  • Women’s right to have access to equal opportunities and all kinds of resources;
  • Women’s right to have the power to regulate and control their own lives, within and outside the home; and
  • Women’s ability to contribute in creating a more just social and economic order.

 

The Maternity Leave ‘allows’ women to have rest and this policy is bestowed upon them so that they should be thankful about it. The ‘right to have access to equal opportunities and all kinds of resources’ is certainly not all there in terms of employment  and nor is it empowering.