Being a mother is the most rewarding aspect of a woman's life. It is exciting and stressful at the same time. Motherhood starts with a lot of inflection, fatigue and nausea that continue throughout the period of pregnancy. A working woman faces many obstacles during this period– stress at the workplace, deadlines and assignments – that can affect the pregnancy.
At the workplace, many people don't really care about her health, but stare to see how her body changes day by day. But the restrictions remain and the office barely changes its rules for her. For instance, the would-be mother is not allowed to bring fruits and snacks to meetings, denying the very fact that she might need to eat or might feel nauseous.
The organisation is also not willing to shorten working hours for a woman in the early and late stages of pregnancy — until and unless she is seriously ill and asks for early leave.
In the first and the last trimesters, unbearable back pain and fatigue can make the woman want to leave the job. Yet she continues through all this physical and mental stresses. The motivation that drives her is the fact that she has to earn for her family and save money for the baby to come.
According to the Labour Act 2006, a woman is entitled to a total of 16 weeks of maternity leave before and after delivery of the child. According to the law, a woman is not supposed to work during the eight weeks leading up to the expected date of delivery, and for eight weeks after delivery.
However, working women usually force themselves to work as long as they can before delivery, and in most of cases they work till the date of delivery. They want to take leave after delivery as it allows them to spend more time with their newborn babies.
Therefore, women put themselves under tremendous pressure to cope with work even to the point of delivering a child to this world. A woman who has been carrying a baby for eight months has to face tremendous pain –a pain she cannot explain in words and cannot describe to anyone. It is something that men do not understand. However, women think it is normal as every woman has to go through this phase.
What is important is that a four-month maternity leave is never enough for a mother. Gynecologists recommend that a baby should be breast-fed for six months after birth. Being fed any other type of milk can have a detrimental effect on a baby of that age.
But a working woman is forced to return to her job and leave her baby at home after the four-month leave, because she has to earn a living.
Therefore, the baby has to be fed formula milk from the age of four months. If the mother falls ill and has to take two months leave before the birth, the baby basically is fed formula milk from the age of two months.
Both society and the law are depriving a baby of its mother's milk which is its first right as a human being. We live in a society where everyone talks of women's rights, but some rights are ignored because those involve the financial interests of many people.
An organisation is sympathetic towards a pregnant lady, but apparently it does not want to help her. The overall idea is that a mother is not supposed to take money while "sitting at home" and "watching TV". No one understands that she barely gets time to even bathe.
Recently, there was an amendment to the Act that says government employees will enjoy maternity leave for six months or 24 weeks. It seems that mothers who work in the private sector are not supposed to take care of their infants. This discrimination between mothers working in the private and the public sectors is totally unacceptable.
How can a law discriminate between women from two different sectors in the same country?
The most frustrating thing is that the law has not been changed to keep pace with changing society and culture.
Moreover, paternity leave in our country seems baseless. The concept of a nuclear family is growing rapidly across the world, whereas a new mother and a newborn baby in our society barely have anybody to support them. In many families, the father is the only person to take care of the infant and the mother.
Last but not least, it is mandatory to take care of mothers and would-be mothers for the benefit of society, the nation and the world. We must not forget that it is a woman who gives birth to a child – an invaluable gift to the human race. Therefore, it is obligatory to take care of mothers and children.
Afrin Islam is a Barrister at law and an Advocate at Supreme Court of Bangladesh