Working women in India woke up to some great news – the possibility of getting twice the maternity leave they currently are entitled to. The government has directed private sector to issue more than six and a half months of paid maternity leave as opposed to the existing three months to women at work.

Until now working women could get only three months of paid leave after giving birth. A woman working as a government employee, Nisha Gupta explains the the need for extended maternity leave in the initial six months of giving birth. She is a Deputy Manager in government-owned Fertilizer company Kribhco Shyam Fertilizer Limited.  Nisha, who gave birth to a girl earlier this year says “a child needs the care of a mother the most in the first six months, which I am struggling to give to my daughter as I only got three months leave.”

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“Although, I have permission from my office to come home and feed my baby, but that’s not enough for a child’s overall development. It is extremely necessary to give good care to the child in the initial stage.”

There are several daycares coming up across the country but working women are increasingly debating the impact of leaving children too early after birth. Private sector employee Sapna Girotra insists while mothers are forced to opt for nannies, “the child knows who his/her mother is. So if the mother is not around the child then the connection starts to loosen between the child and mother, which is very bad for the child’s progress.”

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Working women in India often quit their jobs to take care of the child. What might help delay that decision is the new maternity policy. Aparna Jain is the author of Own It and reflects on the challenges women face at the workplace. “Women’s bodies go through huge changes. And it takes time for them to find equilibrium between nurturing the child, staying up for nights and also managing a full work day. I believe more women will come back to the workforce given this new policy,” she asserts.

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The Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had been pressing for an eight-month paid leave out of which only six and a half has been approved by the Ministry of Labour, which believes any longer a leave may impact the woman’s employability. To this, Jain points out that “six and a half months is fair. If the 8 months were to go through, I would prefer it to be mandated paternity leave. We need to move into the zone of shared parental leave. This will force many men to examine their own biases towards women.  Also from what I have heard many men would welcome it.”

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Paternity leave will break new ground if it is mandated in India as not many fathers are traditionally inclined to help with the growth of the child in the initial stage. There are some signs in the urban corporate sector that this might be changing a bit. Paternity leaves will give them a chance to closely examine their relationship with the child. Most corporations don’t have rules for paternity leave and those that do possibly offer a maximum of two weeks.

There is no doubt that extended maternity leave will be a milestone in Indian history. It will also mark the efforts of the government in recognising women as a critical part of the economic workforce.

Picture Credit- On Secret Hunt