The 2013 elections saw a pledge that attracted the attention,and one would also say, the votes of many women. The pledge was to do with the current ruling’s party’s promise of a nine month flexi-time in addition to the three month maternal leave.
It has been some time in the coming, mainly due to a consultative process between several stakeholders within the government after which the proposal was sent to the RCSC and now the RCSC is also in the final stages.
For the cabinet the ball will be back in its court by next month once the RCSC gives its proposal to it.
The government of the day must implement the maternity leave proposal of six months paid maternal leave at the earliest and also ensure that government corporations also implement it. The original government proposal has taken care to design a separate and more realistic module for the private sector of seven months flexi time which is welcome and not as expensive.
The issue of maternity leave is not just about being accommodating to mothers but there are larger issues at play.
Of them the first and most important is the health of children and the future citizens of Bhutan. A lot of proven health and scientific data, including those by the World Health Organization show that breastfeeding for at least a minimum of six months has several health benefits from reducing infant deaths to ensuring healthier adults.
Bhutan suffers from a high level of malnutrition in its young children and breastfeeding would help them to overcome it. The absence of adequate breastfeeding can lead to a lot of negative medical problem not only for the child but also the mother. Such long term problems cost’s the nation even more in lost opportunities and health care costs.
The other major issue is in terms of ensuring a fairer workplace for our women and not punishing them for becoming mothers. Currently, most Bhutanese workplaces are dominated by and designed for men. The so far skewed thinking of asking women to chose between the workplace and their family is counterproductive in both the short and long term.
One of the great tragedies of modern life is that people no longer have time for their loved ones and as a result the most basic building block of society, which is the family, suffers.
Bhutan, in line with the international best practices, can be different and ensure healthier children and mothers, a more gender friendly work place and a happier society.
All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.