Is 26-Week Maternity Leave Really A Woman-Friendly Policy?

Is 26-Week  Maternity Leave Really A Woman-Friendly  Policy?Photo: MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images
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  • This patriarchal mindset that babies are women’s work, for which employers and others must show indulgence, can only do harm in the long run.

Even the best-intentioned ideas have not-so-good consequences. One such noble idea is to give maternal leave of up to 26 weeks for women, as against the existing 12 weeks— both in the public and private sectors. “Commissioning mothers”, i.e those who use surrogates to bear a child, are to get 12 weeks of leave. A bill to change maternity leave laws, along these lines, is being tabled by Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya today (9 August), says The Economic Times.

While it is always good to give mothers more time with their newly-borns, the chances are that this change will work against their long-term fight for equality in the workplace and giving their partners an equal share of responsibility around the home and in bringing up children. Without changing this outlook, gender equations will never change for the better in a fundamentally patriarchal society.

The problem is not the length of women’s maternity leave, but the lack of it for the partners in their lives.

Consider the cons of giving such long maternity breaks only to women:

One, the longer women stay away from work, the more they will lose out on career progress in a fast-changing world. Even though employers are not supposed to discriminate against women employees, they will unconsciously factor in this “cost” of employing women in the child-bearing age. This discrimination would not exist if men are given half the “maternity” leave quota due to women. This way, employers will know that even their men can take paternity leave to help with new-borns in the first six months, and not discriminate against women. If staying away from work for half a year is likely to impact one’s career, it is best if this handicap is borne equally by men and women.

Two, it is surprising that “commissioning moms” get 12 weeks, but not commissioning dads. If a commissioning mom is not going to breast-feed her surrogate-created baby, her partner (man or woman) could equally take charge of the resultant post-commissioning baby. What rule says that only the mom has to be the in-house parent in the first three months after birth? Women may be temperamentally closer to nurturing roles, but isn’t this what we are now trying to change? Why discriminate against willing dads in the commissioning business?

Three, working out of home is an option now being made available to women post-maternity. Again, why is this available only to women? Even assuming maternity leave cannot be shared between partners, surely working out of home can be an option available to new dads?

It shows a patriarchal mindset that babies are seen to be women’s work for which employers and others must show indulgence. This can only do harm in the long run. While women will obviously bear the joys and burdens of pregnancy on their own, surely post-pregnancy duties cannot be the woman’s work alone? But you won’t discover this from official laws focused on making “women-friendly” laws.

Moving out of patriarchy means moving towards family-friendly laws, not women or man-friendly ones.

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