This column was published in Business Bhutan on 28th November 2015.

I am glad the National Assembly endorsed the maternity leave proposal  that looks to extend paid maternity leave to six months. But, I have a grouse. And I am a little disappointed.

The discussions that took place in parliament, although supportive of the proposal lacked enthusiasm. Most members of parliament “appreciated” the proposal, but argued that it would be detrimental to a woman’s employability, and that the private sector would not be able to afford it. The Labour and Human Resources Minister also confirmed that employment of women had fallen in the private sector over the last two years.

The proposal ought to have been constructed to pre-empt such a discussion. I am sure it was a laborious effort. I am not seeking to undermine the intention of the proposal, but I feel a little let down that there was this opportunity to change laws for the better, and we have in a way squandered it.

The private sector is doing what it can to survive. Women are doing what they can to survive. But the proposal doesn’t appear to be doing what it can to survive. It’s begun a discussion where the focus is on women being a trade-off. Not what was intended, I am sure. If the Cabinet approves this proposal, it’s a short-lived “Hurrah!” for Bhutanese women.

I want this “Hurrah!” to last, and for women to not lose out to men in the job market. In Latvia, the state pays for maternity leave (pressure is therefore, decreased on the private sector). This is possible because Latvian citizens pay for this through their social security. I decided to use Latvia as an example instead of the usual Scandinavian cohort because Latvia is a developing nation. If it works for Latvia, it can work for other developing nations as well. I believe maternity leave should be a collective investment, and not a system of deprivation. It should be a national responsibility to ensure that we have mothers, and children. I say this because I read something a little alarming, this week.

Bhutan’s draft National Population Policy says fewer children are being born every year. If this trend were to continue, Bhutan’s fertility rate could fall below replacement level before 2020- in just five more years! In order to have normal population growth, there should be at least two children for every Bhutanese woman. It would be disastrous for Bhutan to have a declining population so soon. It would cost us dearly.

Denmark had, “Do it for Mom!” to encourage couples to have children. Bhutan also needs a campaign. But in our case it isn’t only about babies, it’s also about mothers. We couldn’t go wrong with, “Do it for the Mom!”

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