Indian Maternity Leave: Helping or Hurting Female Workforce?

By Priya Kankanhalli, ’19

An attempt to assist new mothers in the Indian workforce may prove to be catastrophic. The new maternity law introduced in India, stating that women are entitled to 26 weeks of paid leave from their places of employment immediately after childbirth, comes as a drastic policy that differentiates the nation from the rest of the world. What Labor Minister Bandaru Dattatreya dubs a “humble gift” to the women of India could inadvertently fracture women’s job prospects and disqualify them from hiring candidacy. Wary of the widespread trepidation, Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi conveys a jovial sentiment – she is “very, very happy” with this historical development.

The concept of maternity leave originated in the 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution. As many countries noticed a mobilization of female employees in factories, they were pressed to ensure that domestic life did not suffer. Under the belief that functionality at home is an indirect driver of national economic stability, the United Nations eventually established the standard 14-week minimum paid parental leave. A majority of countries today abide by the UN’s default maternity leave, though paternal leave packages are still largely lacking.

Globally, India now mandates the third-longest paid maternity leave period. Preceded by Canada, which offers 50 weeks off, and Norway, which offers 44 weeks off, India joined the top three last Thursday. However, the bill was first approved in the Indian Parliament last year, suggesting that there has been continued support and persistence in enacting this legislation. All organizations with 10 or more employees are subject to the new law. An interesting clause in the law states that women can enjoy the 26 weeks of paid leave following the births of their first two children, after which they will only be granted 12 weeks of absence. In contrast, among nations that neglect to provide extensive paid maternity leave are New Guinea, Suriname, and the United States.

Several politicians worldwide are skeptical about this legislation – for good reason. Affording new mothers over six months of paid maternity leave will take a harsh toll on Indian businesses. While the Indian government means to encourage women to enter the workforce through this incentive, firms may resist hiring women in apprehension of potential maternity-related absences. 35% of surveyed firms foresee a negative impact on business, with damage done to costs and profitability, and this is aggravated by the government’s failure to allocate financial support to employers. Avenues of communication and cooperation with Indian businesses must be strengthened for this legislation to garner mass approval.






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