New Delhi, Oct 9 (UNI) Women's groups today welcomed the government's proposal to extend paid maternity leave from three to six months to curb incidence of maternal and infant deaths.
The Government has proposed an amendment to the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961.
However, the groups said, there is also a need to have clear policy for women working in the unorganised sector as they comprise the majority of working women in the country.
''We are happy with the proposed amendment as more and more women are getting employed in the organised sector. We hope that these benefits would also filter down to the women working in the unorganised sector in rural areas who contribute significantly to the informal economy of the country,'' said Dr Ranjana Kumari, President of the WomenPowerConnect, a conglomerate of Women's groups.
An overwhelming majority of India's working population is employed in the informal economy. Of the total working population of 317 million, about 290.2 million (92 per cent) are employed in this sector.
In India, the situation is complicated by the fact that as high as 97 per cent of women workers have been estimated to be employed in this sector.
''These women work in markets, homes, fields, forests, along riverbanks and in the desert. Unlike regular workers in factories and offices, they neither earn salaries nor enjoy the welfare benefits of workers in the organised sector,'' said Dr Kumari.
She said as in many other areas of the world, the work of this population often goes unrecognised, and their employment is unprotected.
Most existing labour laws either do not apply to them or are easily evaded, as these women do not have a formal employer-employee relationship, she added.
While high infant mortality is a matter of concern, India also has a dubious distinction of being a country that registers the highest maternal deaths in the world.
According to UNICEF, the maternal mortality ratio is 540 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, rising to 619 in rural areas.
She said women's groups across India are raising the grave problem of dismal care that women receive throughout pregnancy and childbirth.
''WPC feels that there is a need to empower them as equal decision makers in their decision to opt for marriage and motherhood...There is also a need to spread the message of marriage at the right time,'' she added.