As a new mother would you consider taking a leave of absence from work to care for your baby? Of course, taking time off from work sounds natural doesn’t it? But not according to this study, which found that the number of expectant mothers opting for maternity leave has not increased.
Although this study is limited to American women, a key finding, published in the American Journal of Public Health, was that more than half of maternity leaves are unpaid. Which meant that those mothers who opted for leave were financially more secure than those who didn’t, perhaps those who needed it more.
This finding comes even after US President Donald Trump announced during his campaign a guarantee of six weeks of paid maternity leave for working mothers, but in 22 years there has been no upward or downward spiral in trend, with about 273,000 women in the United States taking maternity leave on average each month from 1994 to 2015.
What’s it like for mothers at home? India has the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, which regulates the “employment of women in certain establishments for certain periods before and after child-birth and to provide for maternity benefit and certain other benefits”. On 11th August, the Rajya Sabha passed amendments to the Act, increasing maternity leave to 26 weeks from 12 weeks, and that any company having more than 50 women employees. should have a creche. But this doesn’t cover the unorganised labour sector.
Following this amendment, Genpact, a business process management firm, has increased fully paid maternity leave for its female employees, and made it applicable for adopting and commissioning mothers as well.
Another finding by the aforementioned study was that the number of men taking paternity leave increased from 5,800 per month to 22,000 per month. This can point to the fact that more men are helping their wives after childbirth but that shouldn’t stop mothers from opting for maternity leave.
In India, the subject of paternity leave has come under much scrutiny, especially by Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, who said that paternity leave will just be a “holiday” for men. While it’s imperative that the benefits handed out to new mothers should be increased, it’s also necessary that paternity leave should come with decent pay, so that we’re not shelving mothers into the sole caregiver role, yet again.