Motherhood is kicking Indian women out of work

Extending paid maternity leave from three to six months reinforces the same old patriarchal ideas about women’s ‘work’.

American progressives often bemoan the country’s lack of maternity leave, but in India, the problem may be too much time off, not too little. As many as 12 million Indian women could lose their jobs next year thanks to a new law that mandates employers must allow 26 weeks paid time off after giving birth.

There have been worries about the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act since it was passed in March 2017, bumping paid leave up from the previous 12 weeks and making day care centers mandatory for companies with more than 50 employees.

Some saw this as a step forward for women’s rights. But a new survey by TeamLease, a payroll and human resources services company, claims that the act could lead to 2.6 percent of women’s jobs disappearing. The survey says that employers are less likely to hire women due to their concerns about the demands imposed by the act, especially at smaller companies.

These concerns may well be overrated. There were similar concerns when laws against workplace sexual harassment were passed. There’s no data to support whether these fears actually panned out, but this was a common refrain when the law was passed — that companies would stop hiring women because of the anti-harassment law. But this new law also reinforces the idea that child care is the responsibility of women alone — a belief that’s already making many educated Indian workers believe they have to choose between children and a career.