India mandates 26 weeks of maternity leave, outpacing U.S.

Paid maternity leave in India has officially jumped from 12 to 26 weeks, according to the BBC.

It’s a huge step for the nation’s mothers-to-be, but this increase applies to the births of their first two children only. For any kids that follow, mothers still have have 12 weeks. India’s parliament passed the bill  late last week.

The bill is an important milestone for India, where women in the workplace are still rare: women’s workforce participation in India is lower than that of sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Asia Foundation.

Globally, there are still improvements to be made in terms of giving new mothers and fathers paid time off.

Policy changes in India that the U.S. would envy

The increase in India’s paid maternity leave applies to women at companies with more than 10 employees, and the bill makes it mandatory for companies with more than 50 employees to have a nursery nearby, according to the Financial Times.

“This will help thousands of women and lead to much healthier children,” said Maneka Gandhi, Minister of Women and Child Development, according to the BBC

This is a historic move for reproductive rights in India, but critics have spoken out against it, for much the same reason paid maternity and paternity leave has been slow to advance in the United States: companies don’t want to pay for it.

“Since the employer has to pay the salary during the leave period, the amendment might turn out to be counterproductive…[The] innovative thing to do would be to bring in paternity benefit,” Sushmita Dev of the opposition Congress party told the Financial Times.

The U.S. lags in paid maternity and paternity leave

The United States has a long way to go.

Out of 41 economically developed nations, the United States is the only one that doesn’t “mandate any paid leave for new parents,” found from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Over the past two years, the embarrassment was so keen that American tech giants competed in a kind of arms race to expand parental leave. Netflix gave moms and dads unlimited leave, and others fell in line afterwards.

Amazon‘s company culture has been described as cutthroat, and came under fire before growing its parental leave policy.

Reportedly, after an employee miscarried twins, she jetted off for a business trip the day after her operation. Her boss reportedly said, “I’m sorry, the work is still going to need to get done…From where you are in life, trying to start a family, I don’t know if this is the right place for you,” her boss said, according to an August 2015 New York Times article.

Amazon objected to its portrayal in the article in The New York Times, according to CNN.

But Amazon does offer greater leave today:

“Amazon offers up to up to 4 weeks of paid pre-partum medical leave, followed by 10 weeks of paid maternity leave. Additionally, all new parents who have been at Amazon for a year or more can take a 6-week paid parental leave,” the Amazon website says.

According to the site, the company also has a “Leave Share program” allowing parents to share all or some of the paid leave “with a working spouse or partner who’s employer does not provide paid parental leave.” The company’s “Ramp Back Program” gives news moms or “primary care givers” as much as eight weeks of “flexible time and a choice of part-time options..” Employees also have options in terms of when to start their leave. 

Before this policy change in November 2015, “birth mothers” could get eight weeks of paid maternity leave, and “other parents” didn’t have access to paid leave, according to The Washington Post.

Support for paid parental leave

A push toward further global acceptance of paid parental leave was in the headlines this week.

UN Goodwill Ambassador and actress Anne Hathaway rallied for the expansion of paid parental leave among “countries, companies and institutions” at the UN on International Women’s Day.

“Paid parental leave is not about taking days off work; it is about creating freedom to define roles, to choose how to invest time, and to establish new, positive cycles of behavior. Companies that have offered paid parental leave for employees have reported improved employee retention, reduced absenteeism and training costs, and boosted productivity and morale. Far from not being able to afford to have paid parental leave, it seems we can’t afford not to,” Hathaway said.