Some things are just good to do, with no expectation of a reward. Longer maternity leave is one of them. In a country as family-focused and family-loving as the Philippines, it’s sadly amazing that maternity leave is only a heartless 12 weeks. That puts it near the bottom of the list of countries that honor mothers. This is much lower than the 14 weeks recommended by the International Labor Organization (ILO). In Southeast Asia, employees are given up to 13.5 weeks.
The most generous countries are Finland, Denmark and Norway, with an incredible 18-32 weeks. At the other end are Tunisia and Papua New Guinea, with a cruel four and six weeks, respectively—separating babies from their mothers before they’ve hardly opened their eyes.
A baby needs a mother, not just for that essential nutrient-rich milk but for bonding and loving, too. A baby needs its mother. The cost to a business is small. And in some jobs today, work could be continued at home, or part-time.
I suggested it way back in October 2008—in my “Fair Play” column, when I was still writing a weekly piece for the Manila Standard Today — and a women’s group I helped form brought it into public discussion. But we didn’t succeed. Maybe now is the time, with a President who cares about the livelihood and protection of women (yes, despite his sexist jokes, he does), and the leader of the opposition being a woman, and the Vice President no less. And 87 women in the 17th Congress, plus a lot of sympathetic husbands and, in today’s age, significant others. Yes, at this time, passage of a law granting mothers a longer maternity leave should be easy. It’s just a matter of giving it priority.
To be cynical about it, it’s a vote-getter, too. The only ones likely to oppose it are the employers. The responsible ones are OK; they’ll adhere to a law. It’s the sharks who won’t want to, and they’re the ones willing to fund campaigns to get their way.
What should be added in larger companies is a nursing room. Smaller firms could have a private room where mothers may express their milk in private and have it stored and refrigerated safely until they go home.
The bills in Congress would provide 120 days of continuous leave, with an option to extend for an additional 30 days without pay. Solo parents who qualify under Republic Act No. 8972 (or the Solo Parents’ Welfare Act) will be granted 150 days maternity leave with pay. That seems fair enough. I would give the new father a few days off, too, to help mom settle in.
It’s important that babies start their life on mom’s milk, nothing else. As the baby grows, a shift to infant formula can be considered after six months, not before. And if a shift is made (mom’s milk remains the best up to two years), it should only be to infant formula. It’s properly constituted to having as close to the same nutrients as mother’s milk as possible. Condensed milk and rice water (too frequently used) are about the worst you can give a baby. Malnutrition and stunted growth are far too common in the Philippines. Wrong feeding from birth is a principal cause. So mom’s milk followed by infant formula is the desirable regime.
Sen. Sonny Angara is among the proponents of extended maternity leave. In his proposed bill he cited a 2013 study by the World Health Organization which reported that Filipino mothers have a paltry breastfeeding rate of 34 percent for infants younger than six months; it’s lower than the 50 percent prescribed by the WHO. The senator pointed out that this is one of the major reasons an estimated 30 percent of Filipino children aged five years old and younger are stunted. These problems are exacerbated by the short maternity leave given to female employees.
Angara also cited a 2016 research study by McGill University and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health which concluded that longer paid maternity leaves reduce infant mortality. He added that the extended leave enables mothers “not only to sustain the wellbeing of infants, but also to create a stronger bond with their child.”
Unfortunately, what we have now is a sad society that puts money ahead of babies.
E-mail: [email protected]. Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.