Women on the warpath

Published: Monday 31 January 1994

Bearing the burden of childbir Several women's activist groups and research organisations have decided to step up their agitation against the proposed amendment to the Maternity Benefits Act, which seeks to limit maternity leave and related benefits to two children. This follows the dismissal of their objections by the Union deputy minister for health and family welfare, P S Ghatowar. Asserting the government would go through with the amendment, Ghatowar told Parliament in December that "the views of the organisations have been noted and will be kept in mind while finalising the proposal".

Protesting against the proposal, Lotika Sarkar of the Centre for Women's Development Studies (CWDS) in Delhi, resigned from the National Commission for Women (NCW). Sarkar said she quit "in anguish" because the government's population policy showed clearly that a vigorous struggle was needed to achieve gender equality in the country.

Nearly a dozen other women's groups agree with CWDS that the proposed amendment mistakenly places the onus of birth control exclusively on women. This, they say, would lead to other employment and population policies that would penalise women on the basis of the number of children they have. Said one activist, "Our basic objection is to women being penalised for being childbearers, although it is acknowledged that it is men who play the decisive role in deciding how many children their families should have."

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