As expected, there is good debate on the six-moth paid maternity leave proposal that is still waiting for the Cabinet’s endorsement. The National Assembly wants it to be implemented at the earliest.

The proposed leave was not on the Assembly’s agenda, but in discussing the report on women and children, it dominated discussions yesterday.

However, members like many others are worried about the implication it would have on other sectors, especially the private sector. The general assumption is the new rule would be applicable to the public corporations and the state owned enterprises. This is drawing from the salary revision trend.

There is almost unanimous consensus that increasing the paid leave has huge benefits both for mothers and their babies. From the health ministry’s point of view, there is a desperate need to increase the leave for six-months exclusive breastfeeding. There is no argument here.

But an equally important concern is about women in other sectors. If the proposal is backed on health grounds, it is fair to extend it to other sectors, probably mandated by a law, as women in other sectors also need to exclusively feed their babies.

The concern of women leaving the private sector is unfounded. As it is we already have a policy of marinating a small and compact civil service. Rush for civil service jobs will be handled by the civil service entry exams. Women in the private sector will also not leave jobs because they are not entitled for six months paid leave.

There is already an acute shortage of jobs, both in the private sector and the government. The government on the other hand is encouraging people to look for jobs outside the government. If the private sector is attractive, people will look for jobs there. We can make them attractive by salaries, perks and paid leave. Women in the private sector should not feel like second-class citizens.

The other concern surrounds women losing jobs if the rule is imposed on the private sector. This holds water. The private sector is driven by profit and paying employees for six months without contributions would be near impossible. Today some get less than a month leave. As a result some leave jobs when they are at the most productive age.

There are numerous studies done on how women’s contribution improves if they are able to take out the time needed to improve the bond with their babies. They return to their jobs feeling confident and ready. The question is if our employers have the patience and resources to see that happen.

A middle path would be  stressing on flexi time, through legislation after the three month paid leave. That will ensure enough time to breastfeed and bond with the babies. Some employers do that today, but some are quite strict.

This will not create a divide between women in civil service and outside. This will not cost the government coffers as much as expected and not affect the mother-baby bonding.