Welcoming a newborn baby into the world is a delightful, thrilling, and prodigious experience for the whole family, especially for a mother. However, it also comes up with a dilemma for the working mothers as sometimes the situation compels them to give thoughts on whether to remain at home or get back to work.
Maternity leave gives mothers the chance to bond with and provide for their babies. Nevertheless, when maternity leave ends, switching back to work can be challenging. New mothers often scuffle when the time comes to go for work leaving their babies. The regular length of maternity leave varies across the world and the same is reliant on geography of a country, however, the skirmish is more or less the same for all working mothers.
The concern of a government for working mothers of its country who in most cases contribute to the economy of the country no less than the male section of the country and according action plan of the government in order to ensure that the women get back to work smoothly after the maternity leave is over may help women to deal with this dilemma and handle this situation more efficiently.
The labour law system of Bangladesh was developed during the period of British rule over the subcontinent, more specifically in the year 1881. After Bangladesh got independence from Pakistan in the year 1971, the Bangladesh government retained the laws of British ruling period through the Bangladesh Laws Order (President’s Order No. 48). Prior to the consolidation of all the labour laws through the Bangladesh Labour Code 2006, there were three distinct Acts for the regulation of maternity benefits for women for certain periods before and after child birth and for the payment of maternity benefits to them. These were - The Maternity Benefits Act, 1939 (which was most widely used in manufacturing, service and other organisations), The Mines Maternity Benefit Act 1941, and The Maternity Benefits (Tea Estate) Act 1950. These three Acts have been repealed and amalgamated into the new labour laws under Chapter IV as “Maternity Benefits”. Though this law is amended in 2013 but some sections of Chapter IV (Maternity Benefits) have not been changed.
Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 (Amended in 2013) (Labour Act) recognises that “maternity benefit” means the sum of money payable under the provisions of Chapter IV to a woman worker with leave on the ground of her being a mother. The Act provides that every woman worker shall be entitled to maternity benefit from her employer for the period of 8 (eight) weeks preceding the expected day of her delivery and 8 (eight) weeks immediately following the day of her delivery, and her employer shall be bound to give her this benefit: Provided that a woman shall not be entitled to such benefit unless she has worked under her employer for a period of not less than 6 (six) months immediately preceding the day of her delivery. However, the Labour Act or any other law in Bangladesh have not dealt with the matter of developing a system which may assist working women to win over the dilemma that they face at the end of the maternity leave on how they will ensure good care for their children when they are away from their babies and at work. While it’s common in the United Kingdom for organisations to run a programme helping parents with the transition from work to parenthood and then from being at home to returning to the workforce – it’s a concept that is only slowly being embraced in Australia as well.
This transition from being at home to returning to the work is vitally important since working mothers represent a significant portion of workforce of any given country. In order to face this battle of a working mother, it is very important to create a culture of support in a systematic way within the society.
Globally, day-care centre is one of the familiar institutional settings to guarantee early childhood care and growth. Day-care centres work for sheltering the children while parents get engaged in their professional responsibilities. A day-care centre aims at supporting urban families for accomplishing their responsibilities of upbringing, growth and development of their children properly and to support parents to work or study as well. The most important purpose of day-care centres is to provide care to the children during the temporary absence of their parents to enhance the development of the children physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally, morally, culturally and socially. The need for an institutional care for babies is snowballing at an alarming rate because the socialisation of children is worsening. One cause behind this is that many grandparents do not have the opportunity to help with the upbringing of their grandkids, or they themselves may still be working. In some cases, the grandparents and other relatives live far away.
However, the number of reliable day-care centres within everyone’s reach is very few in Bangladesh.
Working mothers also require a supportive workplace culture within the society. After maternity leave is over, many highly talented women leave the work because they feel unsecured about their child’s safety while they are at work and at the same time feel unsupported or unappreciated at work. Finding the right babysitter is another crucial factor and not at all an easy task for a mother. Hence it is required that the government takes effective measures so that a system develops within the society where working mothers would find reliable places to leave their babies, who can take good care of their babies while they are at work.
If we become a little more organised and farsighted then it is not impossible to set up more reliable day-care centres in workplace areas. Most importantly, the government may establish effective monitoring system of these day-care centres so that working mothers can rely on them when they leave their babies at day-care centres. This little effort can ensure working mothers returning to work after the maternity leave with less concern as otherwise it may hold back them from participating in all spheres of national life in violation of the right guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (Constitution). Furthermore, Article 20 of the Constitution recognises that for a capable person, work is a matter of honour. Therefore, we should use all our endeavours to ensure that a talented capable working mother does not lose her honour at work places and this is how we can ensure that mothers are raising up children with full satisfaction and without any frustration.
The Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), states that discrimination against women is an offence against human dignity and calls on States to “abolish existing laws, customs, regulations and practices which are discriminatory against women, and to establish adequate legal protection for equal rights of men and women”.
Article 11 of CEDAW requires countries to protect women’s rights to work, to ensure that women have the same training and employment opportunities as men.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees for a woman, among other rights, the right to freedom from torture, freedom from slavery, the right to liberty and security, freedom of movement, freedom of thought, conscience, rights relating to family life and children etc. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) guarantees the right to work, the right to an adequate standard of living, and the right to education etc. for a woman.
If we look into the existing practice in our country, we would see every time this is the mother who sacrifices her ambition, her dreams when the proper upbringing of a child is at stake. This attitude is discriminatory towards women of our society. This unfair attitude towards working mothers should be addressed by the Government immediately to comply and uphold the rights granted under the Constitution and International Human Rights Conventions. Therefore, the government should urgently address this issue in our country, making economic rights for women a key focus.
The writer is an Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh and a Research Assistant (Law), Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA)