Opinion

Working mothers of the world, unite!

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on March 10, 2018

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Why only working moms?

Take a look at the International Labour Organisation’s report on maternity and paternity at work. Analysing national legislations in 185 countries and territories since 1994, the UN agency has found there is still huge discrimination worldwide against women in relation to maternity.

Really?!

Of course, overall things have improved in many countries. At least working mothers enjoy better security. Some 34 per cent of 185 countries and territories it has covered fully meet the requirements of the ILO Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183), and Recommendation, 2000 (No. 191).

This mainly covers one key demand: 14 weeks leave at the rate of at least two-thirds of previous earnings paid by social insurance or public funds. Interestingly, no country has cut the duration of maternity leave since 1994.

I'm glad to hear that!

Hold on: all this is way behind what is required. The ILO has passed three conventions since 1919 aiming to protect pregnant and nursing mothers against health hazards at work, provide paid maternity leave, and protect them from discrimination in relation to maternity. But only 66 out of 185 countries have adopted at least one of these conventions. And here's the shocker. The large majority of women workers in the world – around 830 million – do not have adequate maternity protection. Almost 80 per cent of them are in Africa and Asia. Some countries even legally mandate that no particular monetary benefits be given.

You're joking!

That’s not all. The ILO says the US, where women are the breadwinners for 40 per cent of families, is among the regions that do not guarantee monetary supplement to new mothers on leave. Papua New Guinea, the Sultanate of Oman, Swaziland and Lesotho are the others.

Some of these countries, however, provide the right to voluntary unpaid maternity leave. Interestingly, a recent Lancet study has found the US to be the only developed country with a rising maternal mortality rate. Yet, some 70 countries offer paternity leave for new fathers. In Norway, they get 14 weeks of paid leave. That said, Eastern European and Central Asian countries rank the highest when it comes to supporting new mothers at work; in Croatia, a new mother will get 100 per cent of her salary and a year-long maternity leave.

What about India?

In India, new mothers are entitled to at least 14 weeks of paid leave. But the rules are not always enforced. Social security activists say companies use loopholes to make women return to work as soon as possible. In many sectors, including IT, new mothers receive no special treatment apart from the paid leave. No flexi-time or work-from home options.

What about the unorganised sectors?

Good question. ILO says women in India’s informal and farming sectors (they constitute the majority of working women in India) are beyond the reach of formal benefits programmes. In fact, less than 1 per cent of them are eligible for maternity benefits. There is something called the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act of 2008 to extend benefits to the informal sector, but not much is happening on that front.

That’s a shame. It’s time to change all this.

You said it.

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Published on May 21, 2014

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