Given the fragile nature of social protection for these working women, all provision of maternity protection should be universally applicable to all working women regardless of the consistency or duration of work and independent of their current status of employment. ((SHUTTERSTOCK))
Given the fragile nature of social protection for these working women, all provision of maternity protection should be universally applicable to all working women regardless of the consistency or duration of work and independent of their current status of employment. ((SHUTTERSTOCK))

The government must universalise maternity benefits

Maternity benefits should be a right of all workers regardless of employment status, or the number of children
By Dipa Sinha, Jashodhara Dasgupta
UPDATED ON JAN 19, 2021 08:33 PM IST

The key findings from the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) of selected states have reminded us that India is facing a crisis of poor nutrition outcomes. Prevalence of stunting among children has remained stagnant or increased in most of these states. The appalling under-nourishment of children reflects poor maternal nutrition, widespread anaemia and insufficient breastfeeding. Anaemia among women also remains very high and has, in fact, increased in several states.

Clearly, there is an urgent need to boost maternal well-being through comprehensive maternity protection, including health services, supplementary nutrition and wage compensation for the period during late pregnancy, childbirth and exclusive breastfeeding. The existing arrangements for maternity entitlements are inadequate as the Maternity Benefit Act (2017) addresses only those women who work in establishments with 10 or more workers. The Periodic Labour Force Surveys (2019) show that labour force participation rates among women aged 15 and above is only 25% and among them only 12% work in such establishments. For all other women, the only maternity entitlement available is through the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, a cash transfer scheme of only 5,000, grossly under-budgeted, and barely addressing 25% of pregnant women. Women in agriculture, scheme workers such as anganwadi workers and ASHAs, street vendors and domestic workers are not even included in the Act. There was a possibility for addressing these lacunae in the Code on Social Security (2020) for which rules are being drafted. Unfortunately, this Code has missed the opportunity for creating a framework for universal maternity entitlements.

The Code and the draft rules are exclusionary in the provisions for maternity benefits, which are a cut-and-paste from the Maternity Benefit Act, 2017, where only women who are in formal employment are eligible. The Code specifies that to be entitled for a maternity benefit, a woman should have worked in an establishment for a period of at least 80 days in the 12 months preceding her expected date of delivery, which makes it further difficult to avail the benefit given the precarity of work.

The Code is further discriminatory towards women with more than two children and deprives the third or later child of the care and breastfeeding from their mother as she would get only 12 weeks leave instead of the recommended period of six months (World Health Organization). The maternity benefits are also limited to only three months in the case of adoptive and surrogate mothers. In fact, maternity benefits should be gender neutral as “parental benefit”, since sometimes men may need to care for the child, or the adoptive parent may not be a woman/mother.

Even for women who are eligible, the onerous documentation requirements as laid out in the draft rules include a certificate from a medical officer and a notice to the employer, as well as making submission of Aadhaar details mandatory for unorganised sector workers, and digital application is the norm. This puts an unnecessary burden on the pregnant woman. It would be simpler to rely on the registration of pregnancy with the health department or the Integrated Child Development Services, by just adding a column in the Mother and Child Protection Card, which can be the document used to make her automatically eligible for the payment of a maternity benefit.

While the amended Maternity Benefit Act as well as the Code specify that establishments that have 50 employees shall have a creche facility, the draft rules dilute this provision by stating that “in every establishment where fifty or more women employees are ordinarily employed”. This not only reduces the availability of these facilities of children, but it is likely to make employers reluctant about employing more women. In reality, what was required was expanding the creche provision to all children with a locality-based arrangement that permit the mother to go and breastfeed close to the workplace.

Given the fragile nature of social protection for these working women, all provision of maternity protection should be universally applicable to all working women regardless of the consistency or duration of work and independent of their current status of employment. If we recognise that maternity protection is essential to ensure that women have enough to eat, can rest and breastfeed the baby, and to improving the nutrition indicators, India must make it a universal entitlement. The coverage of the maternity should neither be establishment-specific nor should it depend on the number of children. In fact, we would be penalising women for no fault of theirs, since during the pandemic and lockdown, lakhs of women went through unwanted pregnancy with no access to contraception or abortion services. Maternity benefits should be a right of all workers regardless of their employment status, or the number of children.

Dipa Sinha is faculty, Ambedkar University, and Jashodhara Dasgupta is co-convenor, Feminist Policy Collective. Both are with the group on Universal Maternity Entitlements of the Right to Food campaign

The views expressed are personal

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
The emotional turmoil of unrequited love is real, but we can put it behind us fairly quickly if we try. Take cues from the 2009 film 500 Days of Summer. (FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES)
The emotional turmoil of unrequited love is real, but we can put it behind us fairly quickly if we try. Take cues from the 2009 film 500 Days of Summer. (FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES)

Hooked on a feelin’: With Love by Simran Mangharam

By Simran Mangharam
PUBLISHED ON FEB 26, 2021 09:47 PM IST
Heartbreak is bad enough. A heart that withers away when your feelings aren’t returned is a different kind of pain. Sometimes, it’s not them it really is you?
Close
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vast appeal across so many social media platforms are tools that give unparalleled traction to India’s diplomatic outreach (PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vast appeal across so many social media platforms are tools that give unparalleled traction to India’s diplomatic outreach (PTI)

The evolution of India’s Twitter diplomacy

By Syed Akbaruddin
PUBLISHED ON FEB 26, 2021 06:33 PM IST
In a multipolar world rife with concerns about terrorism, contentious trade disputes among allies and adversaries, catastrophic environmental degradation, health issues, human rights advocacy, the security implications of new technologies have made social media platforms an arena of inter-State contestation
Close
That’s not a glowing pitch for the history books. But the ignominy will not be hers. It will rest on the shoulders of the US lawmakers who were unable to overcome, once again, their hypocrisy, sexism and even, racism (AP)
That’s not a glowing pitch for the history books. But the ignominy will not be hers. It will rest on the shoulders of the US lawmakers who were unable to overcome, once again, their hypocrisy, sexism and even, racism (AP)

What is blocking Neera Tanden’s rise to the cabinet

By Yashwant Raj
UPDATED ON FEB 26, 2021 06:33 PM IST
If confirmed, she will become the first Indian-American to hold a Cabinet position in the United States (US) federal government, as director of the office of budget and management
Close
Working in the cramped environment of their homes with little or no contact with teammates, for longer hours, without the relief of social friends and yet being expected to deliver the same quality of work as before, is an unrealistic ask — yet the norm among corporates (Shutterstock)
Working in the cramped environment of their homes with little or no contact with teammates, for longer hours, without the relief of social friends and yet being expected to deliver the same quality of work as before, is an unrealistic ask — yet the norm among corporates (Shutterstock)

Stress hits the bottom line – in more ways than you think

By Raghu Raman
UPDATED ON FEB 26, 2021 06:32 PM IST
Corporates will pay a heavy price if they don’t understand the implications of mental health. Make well-being a priority for employees
Close
By toppling a Congress government in Puducherry, the BJP has sent a message to neighbouring Tamil Nadu, where it is contesting the assembly elections with the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, that the Congress is a greatly diminished force, and the party can be vanquished at any time. (PTI)
By toppling a Congress government in Puducherry, the BJP has sent a message to neighbouring Tamil Nadu, where it is contesting the assembly elections with the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, that the Congress is a greatly diminished force, and the party can be vanquished at any time. (PTI)

The BJP’s ruthless expansion drive

UPDATED ON FEB 26, 2021 06:30 AM IST
Puducherry is only the latest instance of the Modi-Shah playbook of expanding political power. In a sense, Puducherry is now part of a pattern of Machiavellian intrigue that has been repeated from Arunachal and Manipur to Goa, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh where a ruthlessly expansionist BJP seeks to consolidate its ascendancy by wangling either wholesale or retail defections.
Close
For China, there have always been certain issues that are core to its relationship with Myanmar. The latter is strategically important to gain access to the Indian Ocean as well as to Southeast Asia. It is economically important because of its natural resources such as timber, the hydroelectric possibilities stemming from its many large rivers, as well as oil and gas and minerals. Finally, China is committed to large-scale infrastructure projects in the country. (AFP)
For China, there have always been certain issues that are core to its relationship with Myanmar. The latter is strategically important to gain access to the Indian Ocean as well as to Southeast Asia. It is economically important because of its natural resources such as timber, the hydroelectric possibilities stemming from its many large rivers, as well as oil and gas and minerals. Finally, China is committed to large-scale infrastructure projects in the country. (AFP)

Myanmar-China ties: It’s complicated

By Manjari Chatterjee Miller
PUBLISHED ON FEB 25, 2021 07:53 PM IST
While China needs to work with Myanmar, the generals make for uneasy bedfellows in a relationship that has had a long and turbulent history.
Close
Women constitute only 14% of the 280,000 personnel in STEM in India’s research development institutions (UN data). In addition, although women’s participation in the workforce is higher at entry-level, it gradually decreases at higher research, academics and administration levels. (HTPHOTO)
Women constitute only 14% of the 280,000 personnel in STEM in India’s research development institutions (UN data). In addition, although women’s participation in the workforce is higher at entry-level, it gradually decreases at higher research, academics and administration levels. (HTPHOTO)

A gender equality framework for India’s sciences and tech disciplines

By Barbara Wickham
UPDATED ON FEB 26, 2021 06:32 AM IST
Greater gender equality in STEM is crucial, and in the larger interest of scientific progress and society. Currently, India is looking at a paradoxical situation where women are studying STEM subjects but there are not as many women in STEM careers.
Close
The BJP’s political dominance may, paradoxically in some ways, deepen social divisions (Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)
The BJP’s political dominance may, paradoxically in some ways, deepen social divisions (Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)

The disruptive social effects of Hindutva 2.0

PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 09:10 PM IST
It is the electoral hegemony of the BJP which can deepen the sense of betrayal among those who feel short-changed by the side effects of Hindutva 2.0
Close
The Chinese had earlier planned to build a series of 11 dams on the river, of which several are complete (REUTERS)
The Chinese had earlier planned to build a series of 11 dams on the river, of which several are complete (REUTERS)

The Brahmaputra is in danger. Delhi and Dhaka must challenge Beijing

By Sanjoy Hazarika
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 09:10 PM IST
China’s decision represents a strike at the heart of a sacred and ancient land and tampering with forces we do not fully comprehend
Close
With the SC order, Nepal has possibly averted a crisis which would have torn apart its nascent democratic system, shaken the constitutional structure, pushed the country towards prolonged political instability and led to the entrenched authoritarianism of KP Oli (REUTERS)
With the SC order, Nepal has possibly averted a crisis which would have torn apart its nascent democratic system, shaken the constitutional structure, pushed the country towards prolonged political instability and led to the entrenched authoritarianism of KP Oli (REUTERS)

Where Nepali and Indian interests meet

UPDATED ON FEB 24, 2021 07:12 PM IST
With the judiciary standing up to Oli, the room is open for an alternative. India must revise its approach
Close
People in custody, whether accused or convicted, must be considered a priority for the immunisation drive (Shutterstock)
People in custody, whether accused or convicted, must be considered a priority for the immunisation drive (Shutterstock)

Why India must include prisoners in its immunisation drive

By Amrita Paul
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 12:53 PM IST
Prisoners are guaranteed the right to basic health needs. As India undertakes its biggest immunisation drive, it must overcome the hurdles that exist within the system and ensure that the incarcerated are not left out
Close
An electric car charging station is positioned outside the Science Museum. (AP File Photo )
An electric car charging station is positioned outside the Science Museum. (AP File Photo )

When the fantasy of better battery science doesn’t match reality

Bloomberg
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 06:39 AM IST
Car companies are fueling the hype and safety is an ongoing issue — we’re still a long way from the ideal solution for eco-friendly vehicles.
Close
Indian luxury goods have always been defined by their exceptional heritage value in that they were invariably handmade, using skills inherited over generations.
Indian luxury goods have always been defined by their exceptional heritage value in that they were invariably handmade, using skills inherited over generations.

Linking fashion, crafts and livelihood

By Ritu Kumar, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 24, 2021 06:13 AM IST
The pandemic has resulted in reduced domestic demand, shrinking exports, and unemployment. The sector needs support.
Close
India also needs to strongly step up the projection of its most laudable climate actions and bring adaptation to focus in the climate discourse. (Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
India also needs to strongly step up the projection of its most laudable climate actions and bring adaptation to focus in the climate discourse. (Amal KS/HT PHOTO)

India will have to step up climate diplomacy

By Manjeev Singh Puri
UPDATED ON FEB 24, 2021 06:13 AM IST
Ministries in India are notorious for working in silos. Climate is an honourable exception with the ministries of environment and external affairs working together for years. These ministries need to be even stronger in partnership for more intensive engagement across the globe, including through coalitions that push Growth with Renewable Energy, Entrepreneurship and Nature (GREEN). The International Solar Alliance needs to add to this push.
Close
Farmers shouting slogans at the demonstration site during the ongoing protest against the new farm laws, Ghazipur , February 20 (ANI)
Farmers shouting slogans at the demonstration site during the ongoing protest against the new farm laws, Ghazipur , February 20 (ANI)

India can’t lose out on this window of economic reforms

By Gopal Krishna Agarwal
UPDATED ON FEB 24, 2021 06:14 AM IST
The government is not inclined to repeal the farm laws. The responsibility of building the right narrative for it rests on all well-meaning citizens. It cannot be left to political class alone. Politics will be what it is with limitations in a democratic ecosystem. Let us all rise to the occasion.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP