India’s New Maternity Leave Policy Puts the U.S. to Absolute Shame
In India, only 27% of women work, and that deficit costs the country an estimated 2.5 percentage points of gross domestic product per year. Last week, India’s government made an attempt to rectify the problem by doubling its federally mandated paid maternity leave from three months to six.
The new, extended policy puts most of the rest of the world to absolute shame.
India’s new 26 weeks of paid maternity leave surpasses France’s 16-week leave and easily bests the 14 weeks available in Germany and Japan. If India was an OECD country it would rank sixth, alongside Israel and Poland, for longest paid leave. Only the U.K., Greece, Ireland, the Slovak Republic, and the Czech Republic offer new mothers more paid time off.
The United States, of course, guarantees women no paid leave at all. The Family Leave and Medical Act, made law in 1993, only ensures that eligible women don’t lose their jobs if they take up to 12 weeks off after having a child, but the measure does not require that women be compensated during that time. The prospect of a federally mandated paid parental leave policy received unprecedented attention in last year’s presidential election with both candidates rolling out their own proposals for nation-wide measures.
Since winning the White House, President Donald Trump has not officially introduced a plan, but he referenced paid leave for “parents” during his address to a joint session of Congress in late February, and First Daughter Ivanka Trump is reportedly pushing for Congressional support for a paid parental leave measure and child care tax benefits. The proposal President Trump endorsed on the campaign trail would give new moms six weeks of paid leave, which—if the measure passes—would put the U.S. in last place among OECD countries, tied with Australia and Portugal, which also guarantee six weeks.
Despite its generosity, India’s new law has its flaws. It only applies to the nation’s 1.8 million female workers in so-called organized labor and only if their company employs 10 or more people. Another 16 million women, who are either self-employed or work from home, exist outside that “organized labor” classification and won’t be covered. There’s also fear that the new policy will be a disincentive to hiring women because their potential leave is an additional expense and could be seen by employers as an inconvenience. But a reduction in turnover costs could offset the benefit’s expense if the new policy causes fewer women to leave the workforce to have children.
More broadly, there’s hope that the new policy will make Indian business more accommodating to women. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for one, is convinced of its upside. On social media, he called the bill a “landmark moment in our efforts towards women-led development.”
This story first appeared in Fortune’s World’s Most Powerful Women newsletter.