Sunday, May 08, 2011

Denying maternity leave is discrimination against women

(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 08 May 2011) 

Today is Mother’s Day in the U.S. and my readers know I cannot allow any opportunity to slip by to honour women. However, I want to use this holiday to highlight an untenable situation recently brought to my attention that dishonours and discriminates against mothers rather than giving them the respect and esteem they deserve.

I am referring to the fact that there are employers that are not giving mothers their rightful maternity leave. The National Insurance Act allows for thirteen weeks maternity leave. The maternity benefits paid are equivalent to 70% of the average insurable income.

Further, female workers are also protected during pregnancy and after childbirth from discrimination, disciplinary action or dismissal for her pregnancy or reasons connected with her pregnancy by the Constitution, the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act and the Prevention of Discrimination Act.

Thirteen weeks is not a very long time for a mother to have with her offspring, but it is better than what women in the U.S. receive, which is only 12 weeks. On the bright side, there are countries that obviously respect their women much more and care more about the family unit by providing substantial maternity leave.

According to Wikipedia, “Central European countries are the most dedicated countries in the world regarding parental leave. In the Czech Republic, it is standard that mothers stay at home for 3 years with every child. All mothers can decide to take 2, 3 or 4 years of maternity leave… For the whole period mothers are supported by the state.

A similar model is also used in Austria where mothers can choose between 1 and 3 years. Also, in Slovakia the standard duration of parental leave is 3 years; for a handicapped child it is up to 6 years. The state pays support of 256 Euros per month for the child’s first 2 years. After this period it is 164.22 Euros per month.”

Sweden, Norway, Estonia, the UK and Canada are also countries that have very generous maternity leave as well. Likewise, Brazil, Argentina and Peru take good care of their new mothers, too. Moreover, in some countries with relatively weak requirements, there are individual employers who choose to provide benefits beyond those required by law. How many of those can be found in Guyana?

If you work for an employer or know of an employer who provides benefits beyond those provided for in the National Insurance Act, let me know, because I want to honour that person and her/his business. Sadly though, it seems there are businesses, particularly in the private sector, that do not even provide the very basic maternity leave.

This is yet one more way women are being discriminated against and disrespected. There are business owners who would dismissively say that it is bad business to pay for maternity leave, but they fail to fully understand that unless women continue to bear offspring for Guyana – there is no future and there is no business.

There are even some more calloused business owners who would say it was the woman’s fault she was born female and why should the business pay for her to reproduce? I would not waste my precious time on such shallow-minded people, because they are the very reason the human race continues to be ruled by misogynists, racists, caste-minded, power-hungry war-mongers and the like.

I have seen these types of people over and over again. They hold humanity back from its full potential with their small-minded ways, archaic perceptions and self-important attitudes. They wrongly believe their gender or race or class somehow makes them better than others.

These types of people and their way of thinking are detrimental to the human race because until we can all work together – all sexes, all races, all classes, etc. – toward a common goal for the betterment of our species, we will be stuck in this ongoing cycle of destruction.

The world needs more mothers in politics, businesses and religion to finally help balance this off-kilter world. That a woman is penalised when becoming a mother shows just how messed up the world truly is. My experience as a mother has enriched my life and enhanced my career by making me a more well-rounded columnist. I would estimate that this is the case with other careers as well.

I would ask all business owners to imagine how you would feel if you had been employed by a company for any substantial length of time, considered a valuable employee and a hard-worker, only to be released when you give birth – or denied the time to spend with your newborn? A man cannot fully comprehend this predicament, but it is akin to being dismissed because of race or any other factor that is beyond human control.

Women should not be punished in their careers for doing what biology has determined to be uniquely female – bringing human life into the world. Women must be able to contribute to all aspects of society – politics, business, religion, etc. – even as they continue to function as the vessel by which the human race propagates. To do anything less is not “good business,” it is discrimination against those who produce our progeny – and is absolutely repulsive.

Is it really so difficult to allow a mother the time to give birth to her child and spend some time bonding with the baby? Is that not more important for society than the expense and inconvenience of maternity leave? It is sad that such a question needs to asked at all.

As I celebrate mothers today, I want to let those who are about to be new mothers know that I am standing with you. Please stand up for the thirteen weeks you are given to spend with your baby. It is not nearly enough time, but it is better than nothing. If your employer will not allow you that time, send me an email and we will tackle the problem together.

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