The amendments to Maternity Benefits Act has been drafted by Mrs Gandhi’s Ministry for Women and Child Development, but her colleague labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya introduced the bill in the upper house.
“All through the two years while we’ve been pushing for this, pregnant women have mailed me asking, `Is it through yet?” the minister said. They had asked for seven months’ maternity leave, but the government settled on making it compulsory for all offices in the public and private sector to give six months.
This, the minister hopes, will go a long way in fixing the problem of a shrinking woman workforce. Mrs Gandhi said it would affect about 70 per cent of the woman workforce.
“You may ask if it will dissuade companies from hiring more women but I don’t think so. I think women know how to multitask,” she said.
The bill was to have been introduced in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, but then there was what government sources described as a “scheduling goof-up”.
With only three days of the session left, they then decided to bring it first in the Rajya Sabha, since a bill introduced in that house does not lapse with the end of a session.
It was slotted for Wednesday in the Rajya Sabha, which then decided to put aside all work to debate the crisis in Kashmir. Many see the delay as symptomatic of how women’s issues are prioritised.
31 of the 244 members in the Rajya Sabha are women. The 543 seat Lok Sabha has 61 women.