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At Large

Mothers unite!

Filipino mothers unite! Little more than a month after the President’s “nick of time” signing of the expanded maternity leave (EML) into law, the measure is facing a tsunami of resistance from both the government and the private sector.

Under the law, mothers employed by the government or private companies are entitled to 105 days of paid maternity leave credit, with seven days transferable to fathers. An additional 15 days of paid leave will be granted to single mothers. This is certainly a welcome boon for working mothers who used to enjoy only 60 days of paid leave after a normal delivery, and 78 days for those who underwent a caesarean procedure.

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But it seems the Filipino sisterhood celebrated prematurely. The Employers Confederation of the Philippines, for one, released the results of a survey of its members and said 68 of the 70 companies that took part said the new law would “affect” their hiring of women. Which means that given the choice between an equally qualified man and woman, they would prefer to hire the man because of the “cost” entailed when (or if) the woman would go on maternity leave.

On the other hand, officials of the Social Security System, which provides social protection for private sector employees, said the new law would cut short the fund’s existence by one year, unless new sources of funding are provided for the additional expenses entailed by the new law.

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Such resistance has led Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to admonish employers not to “see (the law) as a burden to their operations but as a way to help increase women’s productivity.” The longer paid maternity leave, said Bello, would also allow women to achieve “a healthy work-life balance,” while helping improve the low labor participation rate of women which is at 50 percent.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, main author of the EML, declared the law as a “massive victory for women and their families.” Said Hontiveros: “The law squarely addresses our lack of maternity leave days, and puts us at par with international standards. [In Scandinavian countries, parental leave is as long as six months.] It also supports the best available evidence and practice which are consistent with improving maternity leave policy.”

In practical terms, said the senator, “mothers will have more time to rest from pregnancy. Children will be better fed. Fathers and caregivers can bond and create more lasting memories with their loved ones, as families everywhere receive the greatest gift of all time.”

Perhaps policymakers and employers should take another tack in understanding or interpreting expanded maternity leave. EML is not a privilege or a favor granted to women. Rather, it is an investment by the country as a whole in women, in children, in families and in our workers. With women as important members of the labor force, it is essential that after delivery they be given enough time to rest, recover their health and fully bond with their newborns.

Nor can we downplay the positive impact of EML on the welfare of babies. Mothers can devote more time to full breastfeeding, freed from the pressures of work and commuting. As many mothers can testify, a mother’s breast milk supply would usually dry up once the pressure of work duties commence. With a mother (with the help of the father) devoting more time to infant care in the early days, newborns would be better cared for, with health essentials like vaccinations taken care of.

A healthy female work force, healthy babies and children, as well as a stable and rewarding family life — all these help build the healthy society that we all strive for, and in which we all — men and women, married and single, young or old — have a stake. It is a shared responsibility that cannot and should not be laid on the shoulders of mothers, whom all Filipinos claim to love, honor and value. Rather it should be borne by the whole of society, including expending time, labor and funding where and when necessary, and making sacrifices for the greater good.

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TAGS: At Large, expanded maternity leave, motherhood, rina jimenez david, working mothers
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