The last person one would want to cite when it comes to women is Donald Trump, given his various anti-women utterances and even actions, but that also makes him the best example to cite.
Unknown to many, Donald Trump built his multi-billion real estate empire on the shoulders of women employees and managers he hired. Even early in his career, when it was not the norm to hire women, Trump hired them noting that they worked harder than men.
Even ‘The Donald’ went out of his way to accommodate one his top women executives allowing her to work from home when she had two children.
When the government brought in the six months maternity leave for the civil service the naysayers immediately started saying that it would affect the employment of women.
This statement is hinged on the flawed premise that women somehow become less productive and dependable at the workplace due to them becoming mothers.
This perception has only been building which in part explains the resistance of some government corporations and agencies to implement the maternity leave.
In that respect the Prime Minister’s declaration that the government will intervene in SOEs that do not follow suit is a welcome statement.
One misconception is that some agencies count the number of women staff and assume that they will all get pregnant at the same time. Pregnancies are not frequent occurrences and even when they do happen women still work for the most of the nine months.
Now if the cards are to be stacked against women employees then it can equally be stacked against male employees. Male employees are more prone to alcoholism and even substance abuse and they are more prone to office indiscipline issues as well. If that is not enough, studies have shown that men in authority tend to be more prone to corruption than women in the same position.
In the Bhutanese context it is not uncommon to find ambitious male employees at various levels coming to office in theory, but in reality doing other things like constructing buildings, running side businesses etc. And like Trump discovered women employees are more hardworking and sincere with less breakdown issues unlike the more vulnerable and moody men.
Moving out of the male-female boxing ring there are some genuine economic, health and social reasons for which we have to be more accommodating to women employees and in doing so towards maternity leave.
No country in the world can progress if half its potential workforce is at home not doing any economically productive activity. But for women to come to the work place it has to be made friendly for them or the other option is to just push them back to the kitchen and also take the country backwards along with it.
On the social front the success of any society including the Bhutanese society hinges on the fact that we are not on our own and are there for each other. A basic tenet of such societal norm is when a woman has a child everyone pitches in to help as the child is considered as the future of that society. It is very unfair to consider pregnancy as only the business or headache of the mother.
If we consider health a lot of medical research and data show that a lot of adult health depends on what happens in the first six months to one to two years of a child’s life. This is why the six months exclusive breast feeding is so important.
So the choice before us is very clear. We men can either deny women maternity leave and in doing so push them out of the workplaces and congratulate ourselves for saving a few thousand bucks.
The consequences will be on the economic, social and health fronts for the same society and nation. Just as an example, the same child denied of proper nutrition to save a few thousands can grow up and cost the same nation and society millions in health care costs and lost economic opportunity costs.
We Bhutanese love to bandy about the term, Gross National Happiness but we should also try and realize GNH when the opportunity actually comes our way. The other option is to condemn our mothers, wives and children and our collective well being along with it.
“Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.”