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96% women denied maternity entitlement in India

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Maternity Entitlement  India  Women  Indian women  Maternity  Maternal rights  Women labourers  Sachin Jain  Right to Food

Sachin Kumar Jain

BHOPAL: India is a country devoid of maternal rights. There is a strange insensitivity on this issue in our nation that celebrates International Women’s Day with pomp and gusto.

While members of several political outfits force citizens to raise the slogan ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai--Long Live Mother India’, the truth is that they avoid looking at the fact that nearly 96% mothers in India are denied maternity entitlements.

The fact is that our society acknowledges only the kind of labour which is economically productive. In a very recent development on the subject, Government of India has taken a step to amend the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.

The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 has been approved by the Rajya Sabha in August 2016. As per this amendment, 1.8 million women will be entitled to get paid maternity leave of 26 weeks.

Why women from unorganised sectors excluded?

Earlier it was for 12 weeks. But the big question is that why women from unorganized sector are excluded and why government does not consider all women as actually working women.

Sadly, there is no importance and recognition attached or valuation of works like agriculture, rearing of cattle, collection of fuel wood and minor forest produce, taking care of children, ailing or old people – all such tasks lay in women’s domain of responsibilities.

Their work of this nature is simply considered ‘inconsequential and economically unproductive’. Just ask a question to yourself. Is unpaid care work unproductive? 

Consider, if women had not been doing these tasks, what kind and character of society would we have? If the family and society had to pay up for the work being done by women without any emoluments or value, what shape would our economic structure take?

But it is to be understood that India as a country weighs the labour of about 30 crore work force with a very insensitive, apathetic, unequal and negligent attitude, simply because this workforce is of women, who have been kept as hostage in all sorts of economies for thousands of years in patriarchal societies like India.  

15 crore women in country are main, marginal workers

According to the Census 2011, about 15 crore women in India work as main and marginal workers. Another 5.8 crore women are looking out for work and yet are engaged in some kind of work or other labour. This means that about 20.8 crore women are either working or are available for work.

According to Economic Survey (2015-16), total 2.96 crore people in India are working in the organized sector, but the number of women in the sector is merely 60.5 lakh. Being in organized sector would mean that the workforce here gets facilities like fixed work hours, leaves, health care, children’s education, time for social responsibilities and pension rights to some extent.

They are also under secure umbrella of labour rights. The women working in organized sector get maternity entitlements up to a limited extent – meaning paid maternity leave during pregnancy and after childbirth, health and safe motherhood services, facility for childcare at work place and so on.

These maternal rights should rather be provided with sensitivity and not under pressure. But everything is not so hunky dory even in organized sector. Here too, women have to face biases, misbehavior and harassment in the context of maternity entitlements and women’s human rights. But at least there is some system in place for women working in organized sector.   

But what about the maternal rights of women in unorganized sector? According to data, out of 14.99 crore women workforce only 60.5 lakh (4.03%) women are in organized sector, which means that only this miniscule percentage of women get maternal rights.

As much as 95.97% women workforce of the major economically emerging power like India is completely deprived of maternal rights! What kind of power it is without any regard to gender equality?

And the issue is not only about these 14.50 crore women alone. In the present scenario, the women engaged mainly in domestic work are considered non-working or non-labour force in our society.

No emoluments for household work, domestic care

A time-use study of the government of India underlines that women are engaged in six hours of domestic caretaking, for which there is neither any emolument nor it is considered be an ‘economically productive’ work. In cases where more caretaking is needed, women work for even 9 to 16 hours and yet this work is not recognized or valued.

According to Census 2011, the number of ‘non-working’ women in India is 43.76 crore, of which the main responsibility of 15.99 crore women is ‘fulfilling domestic responsibilities’. If work division is done sincerely and on the basis of labour parameters – then these women have to be considered as working women. But the problem is that the society and government always adopts dishonest attitude in context of work distribution and labour parameters.

In practicality, if the number of main, marginal working women and those engaged in domestic responsibilities are added up, it is seen that about 30.98 crore women have no fixed working or rest hours or no space for looking after their own needs. They do not even have fixed wages.

While calculating wages for manual labourers, their working hours are counted meticulously, though the work and working hours of the government officers getting emoluments of as much as Rs 5000 per day is never calculated. They neither get retirement benefits, nor are they entitled to social-economic security. Such working women do not even have maternal rights. Women engaged in manual labour keep working till few hours before childbirth, because this is what brings food for her family.

Awareness Campaigns run by the Ministry of Public Health and Family Welfare (Government of India) harps on two hours’ rest for all pregnant women; but these campaigns do not tell that the employers of women working in unorganized sectors don’t even allow them a washroom break for urination, so how does one talk about two hours of rest?

Women working at construction sites are insulted in all possible ways by the contractors even for resting for few minutes. The important things for employers are to earn maximum possible profit and maintain one’s domination. To ensure this, they resort to all possible ways. And this is possible because 96% of such working women do not have the security of labour laws, neither do they have the backup of a plausible maternal rights ensuring system.

According to the data of the Ministry of Public Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, in the year 2014-15, the number of pregnant women in India was estimated at 2.97 crore. Of these, only 4 percent (11.89 lakh) women were working in organized sector and were thus under ambit of maternity entitlements.

In year 2012-13, only about 6.37 lakh women in 53 districts of the country got maternal rights in country under the Indira Gandhi Matrutva Sahyog Yojana - IGMSY (connected to Maternity Benefits under National Food Security Act). This means that as many as 2.78 crore pregnant women remained totally deprived of maternity entitlements and this denial of rights pushes women and children into a cycle of deprivation, distress, disregard, diseases and death.

The issue of maternity entitlements is considered a feministic issue. But according to the data of the Ministry of Public Health and Family Welfare, during the same year (2014-15), 16.05 lakh terminations of pregnancies were registered while 10.80 lakh infants died before their first birthday.

The estimated maternal deaths figure was 45117. Ensuring maternity entitlements could have saved many of these lives. Consider some examples. Article 42 of Indian Constitution entails that the state should make special provisions for just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief.

However, successive governments have not bothered about adhering to this provision. Women working in unorganized-informal sector do not get any wage compensation or economic assistance during pregnancy or for early childhood care. This leads to their lives and that of their newborns being put to multiple risks of diseases, disability and death.

They can only expect support from their families or employers that they get enough rest, nutrition, and increase in weight, good health and exclusive breastfeeding provisions for their newborn for six months. It depends on others whether they fulfill these expectations or not.

Usually, the woman fails to get the much-needed “support for life”. The result is that 42% pregnant women are too thin and their weights do not increase as it should during pregnancy. It is obvious that the Maternal Benefits Act (1961) has failed to ensure rights of women working in unorganized-informal sector.

The availability of field workers in government sector like ASHA workers who are supposed to provide maternal services under health department’s ambit doesn’t seem to have had any significant impact. The National Food Security Act passed by our parliament almost 3 years back in mid-2013 had raised a flicker of hope. The Act has provision for grant of Rs 6000 worth assistance to every pregnant woman/lactating mother.

Though this amount is insignificant as compensation for the wages for the period of maternity leaves, but at least for the first time this provision meant acceptance of importance of universalized maternity entitlement for all women.

Later, however, Government of India planted 2 anti-women conditionalities by connecting NFSA provision with IGMSY. These were – minimum age of 19 years and benefit up to 2 children only!

These conditions push many of the women out of the ambit of benefits of Maternity Entitlements. Policy makers of India do not know the reality that a woman in this country has no right over her own body and that she cannot decide how many children she would choose to have; but finally her life is pushed at risk.

This provision is to be implemented under Indira Gandhi Matrutva Sahyog Yojana but the scheme is in a poor state with very little budgetary allotment and very unreasonable conditions for availing the rights, thus depriving most of the marginalized women.

The scheme, in present form, is not rights-based. It is merely a conditional cash transfer scheme that had limited effect on the nutrition rights of children and maternal rights for women.

It is facing very bad implementation status in 53 districts of country. If all women are to be given benefit of the scheme, Rs 16680 crores worth budgetary provision is needed, but for year 2016-17, a provision of mere Rs 400 (just 2.4% of necessary amount) has been made.

If we look at the scenario from the point of view of maternity entitlements, it is clear that we have simply forgotten to put values of human civilization in our socio-economic development structure.

Neither the government, nor the society seems sensitive towards ensuring constitutional provisions and setting up of structure suitable for women’s dignity, life and needs. The point is again underlined that the patriarchal mindset of society has numbed the sensitivity towards pregnancy and childbirth.

[Sachin Jain is Bhopal-based Right to Food activist. He can be contacted at 9977704847. Email:]