How a mother’s grit quick-delivered India’s new maternity leave
Jincy Varghese, a Mumbai based IT professional was as excited for her baby as for the extended maternity bill, for whose legalisation she campaigned. It is a step towards closing the gender pay gap, equal parenting and empathetic policies she hopes.
On the day of American Independence Day in 2016, I realized I had a life growing inside me. That life was around eight weeks old. I have always been an emotional person, but this day was overwhelming for me. And why shouldn’t it be?
As a working woman in India, childcare and maternity benefits was something I never thought much about. Not even when I found out I was expecting. By August of 2016, a lot of things changed. It was on the last day of the Monsoon session, that the Rajya Sabha passed the Maternity Bill. This news got me very excited. I was around 5 months pregnant at the time and I felt life has finally been kind to working, expectant mothers like me. Or so I thought.
The big fight
It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the bill wasn’t a law yet since it wasn’t passed in the Lok Sabha which meant, I had miles to go before I sleep, proverbially speaking. But since I am someone who doesn’t like to wait for things to just happen, I got restless. I didn’t know what I should do. But I did something that I could.
I started a petition on Change.org. And if that wasn’t enough, I hounded Maneka Gandhi, the Women and Child Development ministry, the labour ministry and the then President of India; virtually everywhere and almost every single day! And after fighting for almost five months, the Maternity Bill became a reality. I still remember how elated I was the day Maneka Gandhi responded to my petition personally on Change.org. It was a huge victory for a commoner like me. To have my voice heard and taken notice of by the government authorities.
Is it happy ever after?
I felt like a champion for having won a battle for all the mothers in India. But reality hit when words like “Oh wow, you just returned from a paid vacation, eh?”, “Six month’s vacation oops, maternity leave, forget your appraisal,” greeted me at work. And this got me thinking, why does a mother who has just resumed work after maternity, get subject to such insensitive comments?
A six months maternity leave is a welcome move and absolutely needed. It promotes exclusive breastfeeding which is an absolute must for the baby in the first six months, while helping a mother financially support her family, but there are a few things that could be done better. Things that would lessen these snide remarks from colleagues. The earnings gap for workers without children is 87%, while the earnings gap for workers with children is 75%.
More grounds to cover
One big thing in this direction would be enhancing paternity benefits. My organization, for example, has just five days paternity leave, which I feel is a grave injustice to the new fathers. Enhancing paternity leave, or rather focusing on parental leave would mean better family equations and would slowly shift parenthood responsibilities to the father as well, and not just the mother like it has always been since ages.
Equal parenting benefits and rights would shift the family dynamics and make both the fathers and mothers the breadwinners for the family. What is good for the family is also good for businesses, something that should encourage a more empathetic culture by both companies and policymakers. Times have changed, and now it is important for both the father and the mother to be financially independent to keep the house running.
After all, why should only fathers be the breadwinners? Not only that, but equal parenting would also mean a woman wouldn’t bear the brunt of a child care penalty. She would not need to answer questions such as – “Are you getting married or planning to have a baby? – at a job interview, since the stakes are equal now. A much welcome change and a great future to look forward to, isn’t it?
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