Even with adequate legal protection, many working women find themselves in situations where they have to make a choice between job options and motherhood and many of them end up choosing the latter at the cost of the former. The Maternity Benefit Act was enacted way back in the sixties to protect women’s employment by assuring full paid leave to bring up children. The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha, seeks to increase the maternity benefit from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. It comes at a time when an increasing number of women are entering the organised sector as employees and contributing to national economic growth. Thus, it meets a long-felt need of women across social classes.
It is also an important social security legislation which has a bearing on women’s health and rights, economic independence and child and family welfare. Without legal protection, women will find it difficult to sustain their career. It is a well-known fact that women make many personal compromises and job-related sacrifices when it comes to the timing of marriage and motherhood. Secondly, bringing up children without the required support systems is both challenging and stressful. Working women face tremendous pressures and even harassment at workplaces when juggling conflicting demands of job and childcare.
Besides the maternity leave, women need support systems such creches. The Amendment Bill makes it mandatory for establishments having 50 or more employees to provide for creches. Another progressive aspect is the provision relating to ‘work from home’ for nursing mothers after the paid maternity leave ends. Approximately 1.8 million women engaged in the organised sector will be eligible for these benefits. The government must find a way to extend these benefits to over eight crore women who are in the unorganised sector. They should not be left out, at any cost.