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Let’s treat women fairly

/ 12:30 AM August 25, 2016

We’ve come a long way since women’s suffrage was finally recognized in 1948 with the passage of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but we’ve still ways to go.

Women don’t wear petticoats anymore. (Does a young lady today even know what they are?) Nowadays, they wear pants—and mini skirts. And they hold top jobs in companies. There has even been a number of top women political leaders. The Philippines have had two lady presidents (although with mixed results).

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But there are two areas where equality has yet to be realized, and that’s in the workplace and in religion.

Some Muslims still dress and treat their women the same way they have been treating them for centuries, at least in public. And the Taliban, admittedly a rabid extremist group, prohibit girls from getting an education.

The Roman Catholic Church has two standards, too. No woman has ever been Pope, let alone a bishop or even a priest. Even God is called the Father, when it’s far more likely he’s the Mother, given the loving, caring nature mothers have for their children. I know I can’t win this argument because earthly logic yields to religious beliefs, and I can’t argue against beliefs. But it does seem wrong to me that women aren’t given an equal role in the Church.

The workplace is the other area where we can do more to promote women’s equality. The workplace is a lot better now for women than it was in the 19th century sweat shops, but it’s still got a long way to go.

Women do have biological differences with men. Women bear and raise children. We all consider this the most important and wonderful part of our lives. Who doesn’t adore and care about their kids? Who doesn’t want their kids to grow up healthy, strong, well-educated, and successful in life?

So why do too many companies make it almost impossible to achieve that? They are not giving the women working for them the break they need to bond with their children and provide them a healthy start in those early critical months when a baby’s future really does get told?

Study after study has shown that the first 12 to 18 months are the most critical period in a person’s development, both physical and mental. A baby must have mother’s milk for at least six months, preferably a year or more. The nutrients, the safety, but equally essential, the comforting, bonding and mutual strengthening that occur with breastfeeding cannot be replicated any other way.

Lola or a far-distant aunt cannot substitute for mama. Yet companies only give mothers two months maternity leave, if they give any at all. Some heartless companies even terminate their employment, having hired them on a contractual or on less-than-six-months basis (one of the reasons the ill-considered permanent tenure concept must go, that’s a subject I’ve covered earlier).

I would like to see the new Congress pass a law requiring companies to give their nursing working mothers three months maternity leave with full pay, three months with half pay, and up to another six months of optional leave without pay.  Congress should also pass a law requiring companies to provide for nursing rooms/lactation stations for nursing mother-employees.

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Sadly, lactation works on the situational side, it does not do anything for bonding and mental confidence-building; but mothers need to express and store their breast milk even at work, to keep their milk supply flowing. When they’re unable to, the “plumbing” gets clogged, and the baby can’t feed on mama’s milk when she’s away at work.

Some years back, SGS Far East Ltd. Philippines put up a nursing station by converting an employee lounge into a “kids’ room.” Rosario Bradbury, then CEO of SGS Far East brought baby furniture and her son’s toys into the room, painted it in bright colors, then provided additional facilities and amenities that their nursing employees could use. The cost was minimal; the joy it creates is immeasurable.

As an aside, there’s been a lot of arguments about breastfeeding versus alternatives. It’s quite simple: breast milk is essential in the first six months, and breastfeeding is still much more the preferred way for a baby’s first six to 12, even 18 months. But this can’t always be achieved. Then the only (and I stress “only”) safe alternative, with comparable nutritional value, is infant formula milk from reputable companies.

Working mothers are implicitly asked to make many contributions at home and at work, although they have very little support. When mom arrives home she has to prepare dinner, while the kids expect her to help in their homework, the baby wants to be cuddled, and the house has to be cleaned.

When she arrives at work, she knows what’s waiting: more work. So, what a big difference a considerate employer can make! Working mothers still with growing infants and toddlers need help the most, and companies can adopt policies that are more supportive—more flexible hours, longer break periods (a 20-minute power nap will do wonders), work-from-home options, job-sharing, etc. In today’s modern computer world, many jobs can be done just as easily at home as they are done in the office. And there are savings and other benefits: less transport costs (and no traffic), a smaller office need, and reduced stress with co-workers, among others.

But let’s not wait for a law, let’s take the initiative and look after working mothers now.

***

E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com

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TAGS: human rights, UN, United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, women, women’s rights, working mothers
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