Updated: December 30, 2015 12:02:04 am
The Union government’s decision to amend the law in order to guarantee women working in the private sector 26 weeks’ maternity leave, up from the 12 weeks they are now entitled to, must be unconditionally welcomed. It must be commended not just by those who have stakes in creating an environment for the working woman that is more just and enabling. It must be welcomed, most of all, by corporate leaders who may be worrying what this will mean for bottomlines. For generations now, having a child has meant agonising choices for working women, many of whom have been forced to put their careers on hold to nurture children through the first critical weeks. Many companies, in turn, have been hesitant to invest in women employees who they believe will leave to have children — doubling the barrier to a successful career. Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi has noted that the amended law will enable women to breast-feed children for as long as needed. This will have substantial benefits, with parents having to take less time off later to deal with childhood illnesses. Paid leave, in Europe, researchers from the University of North Carolina have shown, has a close relationship with reduced infant mortality rates and child health. But most importantly, the new law will allow women, a growing part of the private-sector workforce, not to have to choose between children and work. Longer maternity leave will allow companies to retain expertise, build loyalty, and avoid costly staff turnover.
Large swathes of data on the positive effects of extended paid maternity leave have emerged from the United States — a country which lags far behind the norm for developed countries. YouTube Chief Executive Officer Susan Wojcicki has written that the rate at which new mothers left Google fell by a staggering 50 per cent after it increased paid maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks. A Rutgers University study, likewise, found women who took advantage of the state of New Jersey’s relatively generous family leave policies, were far more likely to be in employment nine to 12 months after the birth of a child.
This is a good time for India to debate whether similar enabling provisions for fathers ought to be introduced. Israeli medical research has shown that father-child bonding increased when they took paternal leave, because of biochemical changes that took place in men’s brains. This, in turn, led to the better economic outcomes that are associated with stable families. From Sweden, moreover, there’s evidence that womens’ incomes increased an average of 7 per cent per annum for every month their partners took off work to help with child-care. The case for the new law is simple: Better-off employees’ families mean better-off companies. The only question about this win-win move is why it has taken India so long to make it.
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