Should 6.5 be the magic number?
While corporate India gets ready to welcome in the union government’s decision to increase the maternity leave for women employed in private firms from the existing 12 weeks to 26 weeks, we wonder – should 6.5 be the magic number?
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi confirmed in an interview that the Ministry of Labour has agreed to increase maternity leave to six-and-a-half months. Although on the one hand this could be considered a boon given the last leave period of 12 weeks, on the other does it really do the justice to the reason?
Says Simran Oberoi Multani, founder of Ovenderful, “It's a good change, but from my personal opinion it is still not enough. At 6 months, a baby is not even able to crawl or even sit up perfectly. Yes it's older than what a 3 month old would have been but how much so? Policy change like this is great and definitely creates a support system for working mothers but to actually ensure that talented women remain in the workplace there needs to be more elements like childcare support / on site crèches as well as mindset changes within the organizations about sensitising managers on how to re assimilate those coming back from the leave.”
Officials of the WCD Ministry have said that they will push for extending this leave to eight months, or 32 weeks, for women employed in both private and government sectors. However, the Labour Ministry feels that this could affect the women workforce's level of employability.
It’s not just the matter of extending the leave period for a mother-to-be though. The challenge extends far beyond as Roli Singh a media professional puts it,”a 26 week maternity leave is like a dream come true for moms-to-be employed in the private sector. This gives the woman time not only to adequately nurse the baby but also to readjust her body rhythm to the trials and travails of being a new mom. However, the government should ensure that after a woman resumes work with her employer, there is no diversion in her role. A woman who worked during her pregnancy is as efficient as after she joins after the maternity leave. If the employer wants he can have an orientation course arranged after the leave for the woman to catch up on whats happening in her field of work.”
Several women professionals do tend to feel like they are not looked at the same way, professionally especially after a long career break that includes maternity leave and some more.
“A maternity leave should not be used as an excuse to settle scores, demote the woman employee or make her feel that her core competency/efficiency has reduced after she became a mother. Today’s working woman knows to balance her personal and professional commitments,” claims Roli Singh.
Maternity leave is the time for a new mother and her baby to bond. It’s when a new mother has to focus on the newborn. Whose to say what’s a “sufficient” period of time?
Khyati Dharamsi, freelance business journalist who now works-from-home says that she had difficulty resuming work after 3 months. The move if approved would help many mothers bond well and breastfeed their children longer, which would in turn build their immunity. Khyati has been working from home now since the last 4 years, after an initial full time stint that lasted 7 long years.
By Paroma Sen with inputs from Debjani Ray