We have written on this subject several times. But it can never be emphasised enough. For the situation in most private companies and work organisations is dismal. Bosses grumble when women ask for maternity leave or just terminate them straightaway. Many polite ones resent the women employees having babies, as if she is committing a crime by wanting to start a family. We know the pressure to start a family is stronger from the husband’s family and the husband himself may be keen enough to have a baby but the onus of worrying about it falls entirely on the working would-be-mother. We know having a baby is like a ‘second birth’ for the woman as she goes through enormous physical and mental stress during and after the pregnancy. If she is not supported whole heartedly by each one around her she suffers many times over. At such times if the work organisation grudges her the leave and makes her feel guilty of being absent then imagine her mental status. Some women who are conscientious may in fact offer to resign from her job which is entirely unfair. A right attitude of support and positivism will give women the confidence to carry on their work with renewed energy after her motherhood. Besides the maternity benefit we should also grant child care leave for women workers. A healthy child needs the care of a mother at certain times likes illness, examinations, etc. Men too want paternity leave and child care leave but that would be the next step as it still remains a domain for women in India to worry about.
The government sector has set rules for maternity benefits which can go up to 6 months (180 days) and also has child care leave allowance which is for a period of two years or 730 days. This child care allowance is for the Central government women employees, which has been in force since quite some years. This is a wonderful allowance but remains restricted to a small percentage of workers of the central government. The Maharashtra state government women employees have been asking for the same provisions of child care leave but it is yet to implement it. It is heartening to know that the state of Jammu and Kashmir has introduced the ‘Child Care Leave’ allowance to women employees who have become mothers. This provision allows the employee a maximum period of 730 days off duty during her entire service. As per this leave a maximum period of two years can be availed which means that a working mother can take care of two children. The leave can be taken to look after the children’s education, or during an illness or any such similar requirements. Her salary will remain intact during the period of leave which will be equal to the salary that was drawn immediately before she took leave. Also, she can combine the child care leave with any other kind of leave.
We hope more states will follow suit. And of course we wish the private sector would also introduce such benefits to mothers. Actually this is the need of the hour for working mothers everywhere. All organisations should introduce it. If women are to become an integral part of the workforce in a serious way then her special needs will have to be looked into and taken care of. How can we expect women who want to make careers to sacrifice motherhood and become career focused only. We have seen what has happened in the developed countries. Women do not want to have babies at all since they are so focused on their career development that the baby might just be a hindrance. Of course that is not the only cause for there are many other social changes which are responsible for the decline in fertility rates of women abroad. Marriages have become unstable as the divorce rates shoot up, family sizes have diminished so the family support systems have vanished and women have become independent and must fend for themselves as that is the norm. We could learn from the mistakes made by others and be wiser and kinder to women employees. If her child bearing and child caring responsibilities are taken into account women could become an incredible force to reckon with. They have tremendous potential and talent but get circumscribed due to their specific roles and functions. This should not be taken as her limitation but her strength and she ought to be empowered for this function not ridiculed or condemned.