(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 13 August 2011)
Question 9: There are many mothers who are forced by their employers to return to work soon after giving birth. Do you view this as discriminatory against female workers?
AFC Candidate Khemraj Ramjattan
Oh yeah, it is very much. What time are you talking about? I mean a week after they have to go and [work]? That is crazy.
My response: Less than the 13 weeks that are allowed to them.
That is a violation. That woman’s body may not be prepared yet for work again [so soon after]. But more than that, you want the woman to be comfortable in her zone so that she can then go back to work within that 12 or 13 weeks rather than to simply put her back after childbirth.
I think it is a serious violation of women’s rights and we should ensure that whatever the standards are [13 weeks after], that must be adhered to. I feel an Alliance For Change government will ensure an adherence by the private sector and [implement] serious penalties to employers who do not adhere to that.
APNU Candidate David Granger
Since only women can bear children, and since I believe that human beings need a much longer period of education before they become independent – anybody who has held a child would know that the child is completely helpless – so I believe that the facilities given to a woman who has just given birth to a child needs to be as favourable as possible.
There is nothing more important to the development of human society than the upbringing of children and when it is rushed and the parent has to take that child to a crèche or to leave that child with a relative, I think the child’s upbringing is likely to be impaired. So I believe that more time should be legislated so that women could pay much more attention to the upbringing of children. I think a mother needs to spend as long as possible, given the economic circumstances.
I believe the same ministries, the ministries of Human Services or Labour, should ensure there is no abuse of that rule. Certainly, when I was in the Defence Force, that rule was observed. The woman got at least what her entitlement was and if there were difficult circumstances—for example, the illness of the child or the child may have contracted some infantile disorder–the person was given more time.
But I think there needs to be more sympathy. The upbringing of children is the most important thing a society can do. That is why we put so much emphasis on education. It is the most important thing that can happen in the first 20 years of your life – your education.
I would make sure there is no infringement of that rule and that it is extended to give the mother more time with her child if it is necessary.
PPP/C Candidate Donald Ramotar
Yes, of course. I think it is. Because that is something only women can do, I would say yes that it is discrimination. And we should insist on the law in this regard, that the women would have a certain amount of time to be allowed to be home to be better prepared with their children and so forth.
Even though it is not, it is not always [necessary]. I have a personal experience. When my son was born, my wife was… working at the hospital and she had to do a certain amount of delivery in a certain amount of time before she could qualify. So, she went to work three weeks after she gave birth because she didn’t want to have to do the exam all over again.
But if it is forced upon them, and if they are in the circumstance where they are forced by their employers to do it, I think that is not right at all. I think there is a certain amount of maternity leave they are supposed to be given and that should be insisted upon at the minimum.
I feel it necessary to point out that Ramotar’s answer included an example of the very problem put forth in the initial question. Ramotar’s wife should have been given an extended period (several weeks) to finish her qualifications once she gave birth, instead of being pressured to return to work so that she was not left behind. I do not think Ramotar even realised this point, which is really just too bad.
Ramjattan’s answer was nice, but Granger really and truly got it. He pointed out that the process of giving birth, and bonding with the child after birth, is essential to the continued development of the human race. As this is an act only women can perform and as this is also an act that is vital to the survival of our race, to penalise women for giving birth is counter-productive to the overall good of all.
The good of all humans surpasses by far the lower position of merely making money in a business endeavour. Yes, it is absolutely gender discrimination to force a new mother to return to work mere days after giving birth. Even the 13 weeks allotted by law in Guyana are paltry compared to the standards set by many other countries, but then to have even that short amount of time pilfered by money hungry employers is a catastrophe waiting to happen to the future of Guyana.
A country cannot sacrifice its future to the short-sighted and shallow whims of those who can only see the almighty dollar in their hands today. By allowing employers to pressure new mothers to leave their babies so soon after birth, we give assent to the notion that money is more important than people, than babies, than mothers, than humans. It becomes yet one more way that we lose our humanity to the rat race.
Ratings: Ramjattan – 2; Granger – 3; Ramotar – 1