Motherhood, for all its magic and glory, can turn out to be a very excruciating phase. Everything changes, apart from just the physical and mental changes. The mothers are no longer the center to their universe, the position is relinquished to their children, something they willingly do and not even once complaining how taxing it is. It all centers the kids’ health rather than theirs, their entertainment while forgoing entertainment for self, doing everything for their happiness while slowly sinking into depression.
Mother’s love no bounds, and undeniably that’s the only pure and selfless love one ever gets to witness.
Keeping all this in mind and probably more, the Rajya Sabha has just amended the Maternity Benefits Act, mandating 26 weeks of paid leave for mothers against the existing 12 weeks. It not just supports working women, but further eases the worry that they don’t wish to tackle in such blissful, if somewhat draining, period.
Generous maternity leave is essential for a mother and child’s health and well-being. And such laws do bring more mothers back to the office, giving them a chance to continue their life while uplifting one. Rajya Sabha MPs have indeed taken the first decisive steps towards not just increasing women’s participation in the workforce and ensuring fewer ‘dropouts’. But, also adhering to the criticality of breastfeeding in the first few weeks after birth, thus improving malnutrition rates and early child health.
It is a long overdue legislation that must be welcomed and should be credited for the thought. New mothers do need some time and space away from their jobs, for themselves and their children, while not risking losing their jobs, and the Bill somehow substantiates it revolutionary.
The Bill acknowledges the rights of ‘commissioning and adopting mothers’, those that have surrogate children and those that adopt babies younger than three months, and mandates that firms with more than 50 employees must have the facility of a crèche. It also provides for a work at home option even after 26 weeks, which is subjective in nature. While this is to be applauded, it is also hoped that it will help in increasing the participation of women from the current 24 per cent, which is way lower the global average of 40 per cent. Also, women from the unorganized sector can avail the benefits of the Bill.
However, the Bill is entailed with some crucial misses- mothers of adopted and surrogate children, a woman who has two or more surviving kids will get only 12 weeks’ of such leave, and the lack of arrogating the role of a father in the process of child rearing.
The Bill somehow strengthen the stereotypes and patriarchy that is always around us, whether we like it or not. Child rearing is an important process, and the absence of a father who has to play the role of a bread-earner, just aggravates the already raging stereotypes. Child not only needs the attention of a mother, father helps too. Plus, the help given by father during a crucial time, helps the mothers from sinking into depression or on losing out their mental peace and on their individuality.
The Bill assumes that only a mother is a parent or primary caregiver, while a father is the provider and an employee bereft of an active responsibility in childcare. It is silent on paternity or parental leave. It reinforces gender-based roles within the family, and instigates sexism.
While maternity should certainly be protected, the law should recognize that raising a child is a social function and the responsibility is commonly owed by all parents, gender or biological/adoptive factor no bar. Also, the benefit of such a bill should be available to all women, and shouldn’t influence the wage gap, which usually hampers the growth of a woman when working, and also increases the drop-out rate.
When we can change the world, the thought, and certain tabooed topics, one bill at a time, why should the government refrain itself, right?