In a welcome move, the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, approved amendments to the Maternity Benefits Act of 1961 to increase paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. With this, India joins the league of 16 countries having the longest paid leave for new mothers.
Till now, women have been eligible for only three months maternity leave. In the age of nuclear families, new mothers had to leave their three-month-olds, who were not yet old enough to sit up or speak for themselves, at the mercy of nannies. Regrets, coupled with the pressure of catching up with the workplace trends, cause women to give up on their jobs and dream careers. This trend reflected in a 2015 study done by Assocham which shows that 25-30 per cent of women in Indian metros (mostly first-time mothers) quit their jobs to raise their children.
What else is in?
The amendment is expected to benefit around 1.8 million women working in the organised sector.
An extended maternity leave alone may not be enough to increase participation of women in the country's workforce. In a 2013 World Bank study, India has the lowest participation of women in the workforce among the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). The report cited lack of access to higher education, fewer job opportunities, the lack of flexibility in working conditions, and domestic duties as factors behind the low rates.
The Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Bill, 2016, mandates opening crèches in all companies having more than 50 employees. The cabinet said that the bill also seeks to “facilitate work from home”. Another highlight of the amendment is also approval of 12 weeks’ maternity benefits to a “commissioning mother” and “adopting mother”. A commissioning mother is one who gets a baby via surrogate mothers.
The amendments might encourage women to enter and, more importantly, stay in the workforce. According to a report 'Women and men in India' published by the National Sample Survey Office in 2014, only 23.3 per cent of women in the age group 30-44 were part of the workforce in urban areas, whereas men constituted 98.8 per cent.
Flipkart, Nestle India, Accenture,Godrej and Hindustan Unilever are some of the companies that have been offering six months of maternity leave well before the amendment of the policy came into consideration.