Right to Food Campaign statement against violation of maternity entitlements under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013:
The Right to Food campaign held a protest demonstration against the dilution of maternity entitlements under the National Food Security Act at the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Shastri Bhavan Delhi. A delegation met the Minister of State Smt. Krishna Raj, and submitted a memorandum. The delegation included Sejal Dand, Devika Singh, Jashodhara Dasgupta, Snehalata, Kousalya and Pushpalata.
The campaign demanded immediate implementation of the NFSA entitlement of at least Rs. 6000 for all pregnant and lactating women without any conditionalities or exclusions based on number of children. Further, the issue of inequality in maternity benefits for women in the organised sector vis-à-vis those who are in the unorganised sectors or in unpaid work was highlighted. The delegation requested the Minister to provide leadership to the issue of comprehensive wage-linked and universal maternity entitlements.
While the Minister provided an opportunity for a meeting and gave her consent to go through the memorandum, her initial response was disappointing. Based on this meeting and other announcements of the Government, it seems as if the recently announced Maternity Benefit Program is being seen as something that is a new idea and not at all linked to the NFSA.
The fact that this has been a legal entitlement for women for over three years now is ignored and this truncated scheme is being pushed as something of an innovation by the Prime Minister, that too not towards protecting women’s rights but instead doing women a favour by providing a dole. Further, there is absolutely no willingness to recognise that wage compensation during maternity is a woman’s right and that the government has any role to play in this,
The Right to Food campaign has been repeatedly pointing out that restricting the benefits to the first live birth will exclude a large majority of women; and most of these women who are excluded will be those who are most vulnerable, living in poorer areas, belonging to SC and ST communities.
The child’s right to breastmilk is intrinsically linked to maternity entitlements and such criteria not only violate women’s rights but also of children who are not first borns. Such a move also undermines all the efforts that are being made towards reversing the trend of declining sex ratio and preventing sex-selective abortions. Previous studies have shown that the strict two child norm has also contributed to sex selection.
This Government is refusing to acknowledge women’s unpaid work and her contribution to the economy through productive and reproductive work. Recognising unpaid work is now also one of the agreed upon goals for governments under the UN SDGs. One of the steps towards this would be to move towards universal and comprehensive maternity entitlements.
It is unfortunate that we are going a few steps behind even the small beginning that we seemed to make with the NFSA including maternity entitlements. We must have the same standards for all women irrespective of the sector they are working in. If women in the organised sector have a right to six months of paid leave so do all other women. Unfortunately, the government seems to place a lower value on the lives of children and women in the informal sector than their own employees.