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License to breed

A project to increase maternity leave sheds light on the question of women job market

“Sons are devils. Better not to have them. But if we don’t have them, how will we get to know them?” questioned Vinicius de Moraes in his poem Poema enjoadinho. But is it enough just to know them? According to studies from the World Health Organization, more is needed: the exclusive breast feeding should be extended to the first six months of the child’s life. “The Brazilian government has been campaigning to orientate mothers to breast feed their children during this period. On the other hand, the Constitution allows for just four months of maternity leave”, complains senator Patrícia Saboya Gomes from the state of Ceará and the author of the bill that creates the Female Citizen Company Program (that began to be discussed in the middle of last month), directed towards an extension of maternity leave by a further 60 days, countered with a fiscal incentive concession. “Over the last few decades women have obtained major advances in diverse areas, including their professional life, with the conquest of their space within the market place. Women’s challenge in the 21st century is something else: to balance these conquests and an experience inherent to the female sex, namely the full joy of maternity.”

The senator’s projections indicate that her proposal’s fiscal compensation ‘is palatable’, corresponding to around R$ 500 million, referring to the deduction in the income tax of the pay of the employee on leave. On the other side of common sense, which tends to see the female prerogative as a ‘benefit’ and even as one of the factors that makes the costs of hiring professional women more expensive, and would supposedly cause their rejection by the market, as well as explaining their salaries being inferior to those of men, a recent study from the International Labor Organization (ILO), called Questioning myths, wants to combat, with data, the sources of the occupational segregation between married and single women and between men and women.

“The cost of women employees to companies is associated directly to maternity leave and to childcare represents less than 2% of the gross monthly cost of the salaried woman, which contradicts the belief that the benefits associated with maternity leave make women more expensive to companies”, says Laís Abramo, the research’s editor. The economist Marcio Pochman, from Unicamp, agrees with the study. “The additional cost for the female employee is some 13.81%, considering the current maternity leave of 120 days. But when one considers that the company will have four months of lower costs with the female employee in the year, as a consequence of the leave, which is not assumed by the employer but by the Social Welfare Service or by another public organization, the average annual cost suffers a reduction of 22.12%.” A point in favor of the new bill.

However, another study, from the Mercer Human Resource Consulting, which analyzed the working conditions and benefits in 60 countries, evaluated that Brazilian female workers would be, on account of this, one of the most privileged on the globe. In relation to maternity leave in 34 countries, Brazil is in second place in the ranking of weekly pay and total benefit given to professional women after the birth of a child. The period of 120 days puts the country in ninth place on the list, losing out to Sweden and Australia, places where, nevertheless, the practice of integral remuneration which is guaranteed by our Social Welfare Service does not exist. An important point: around here, a good number of the mothers return to work without having completed the time of their maternity leave. In times of globalization, in which the cost of the workforce (especially the non-salaried linked to female workers) is a variable key point towards the competitiveness of companies and countries, the discussion of maternity leave takes on fundamental economic importance, since in Brazil, between 1982 and 1997, the rate of participation of women in the workforce as a whole grew on average 35%.

“Children or career, for a section of society, are turning out to become more and more excluding options. It is a fact that women (and men) attempt to put off maternity/paternity, and the social pictures, as far as reproduction is concerned, are off-balance in the name of the company’s well-being?”, evaluates the economist Adriana Strasburg, author of the doctorate thesis entitled, Women and work in Brazil during the 90s, supported by FAPESP, defended a short time ago at Unicamp and supervised by professor Cláudio Dedecca. She points out that the entrance of women into the marketplace, over the 60’s and 70’s, was celebrated as a feminist victory, the conquest of equality and financial independence. The decades of the 80’s and 90’s consolidated this success.

“But one needs to denounce the time expropriated from women in the name of social reproduction. For a growing part of the population, destabilization appears because of the overload of work, accompanied by a precarious insertion, not socially recognized, of poor remuneration”, explains Adriana. Even women with higher levels of education, who are more easily absorbed by the market, on going out to work are obliged to place other women within the house, under inferior conditions, in order to look after their children. “The estimates point to the existence of a negative impact of maternity over the participation of women in the market: in general, those that have children receive an hourly salary that’s 27% less than those who don’t have children”, explains Elaine Toldo Pazello from FEA-USP, and the author of the research paper entitled, Maternity and women in the work market. “Women with children tend to have a smaller workload in hours and look for jobs with this more flexible profile, which, not rarely, pay less. Nevertheless, for women older than forty, this salary difference is almost non-existent, since, some time after the birth of the child, productivity differences tend to diminish until they are no longer influential”, says the economist.

Nevertheless, a study carried out by Eduardo Rios-Neto, a demographer from UFMG, showed that, if the level of female participation in the Economically Active Population (EAP) has grown over the last forty years, the segment of married women was that which reached the highest level of growth. “It’s possible to speculate that maternity leave has contributed to the increase in women’s participation within the AEP, particularly married women”, observes Rios-Neto. He points out that maternity leave has been conceded to Brazilian women since the labor legislation of President Getulio Vargas. In 1974 the benefit stopped being the responsibility of the employee and passed to be that of an institute, the Social Welfare Service. In 1988, with the new Constitution, the benefit was extended from 84 to 120 days. “The first change was fundamental for a drop in occupational segregation by gender, since then the direct costs left the hands of the employers and went to the State. But the second change has favored a return of married/single segregation by widening the time of absence.” The results, however, are not conclusive.

What is known for certain is that “there is a low annual incidence of pregnancies, and, consequently, of maternity leaves and other reckonings associated to it among salaried women workers”, as the ILO study emphasizes. This is a reflex of the historical tendency towards a reduction of fecundity of women, even more accentuated among the members of the female work force. “An accentuated and systematic decline in the incidence of fecundity is on course, which has decelerated the annual growth of the population. The demographic explosion is only for those who’re uninformed. Between 1970 and 2000 some 50 million Brazilians were not born.”, explains the demographer Elza Berquó, from Cebrap. According to her, it is exactly among the lowest favored classes that fecundity has exhibited the most accentuated decline over the last decade: 20.5%. The most alarming piece of data is that, within the group that concentrates fecundity (between 15 and 34 years of age), a large slice, 19%, is of women between 15 and 19 years. “According to the results of my research, women who have their first child in adolescence have lesser chance of participating in the work market: the family income differential is some 25% in favor of women who didn’t have children during their adolescence”, says Elaine.

If there is little working space for young mothers, there is even less for other women who, would supposedly be covering for the ones who are being benefited by the maternity leave. “Only 36% of the total of days is covered through the hiring of a substitute. The most common practice to cover the absence consists in the distribution of the tasks that the licensed person had among the other employees”, says Laís Abramo, from ILO. Thus, contrary to that expected, costs to companies with substitutes and the payment of overtime (for those who accumulate the functions of the woman on maternity leave) do not reach the 26% of the salaries that are not paid during maternity leaves.

The differences can even be verified in the absenteeism resulting from the benefit to the new mother. The ILO researcher recalls that, as the major cause of absence from work, for men and women, are work accidents, which correspond to 58% and 51% respectively of the total of non-working days, in the case of women this average even overtakes those non worked as a result of maternity leave (2.5 days per year, or that is, 40% of the total absence of women, in the face of the 3.2 days per year, resulting from accidents at work). “One can’t justify attributing the costs of protection to maternity leave and to looking after the child to the persistence of a series of inequalities that continue to mark the situation of women in relation to men in the workforce market”, believes Laís.

The researcher points up as well that the costs of biological reproduction continue to be attributed to women and confined to the non-mercantile environment, taken as a piece of data in conventional economics and considered as free assets provided by mother nature. “This means that these activities continue on without being recognized in economic terms and are even socially little valued”, she says. Thus, putting off of a maternity leave or the option for not having children is growing and merits attention, as Elza Berquó likes to say. “Caring is a natural resource on its way to extinction”, analyzes the economist Nancy Folbre, revealing the resistance of women to continue assuming the costs of reproduction.

“Even at that, the analysis of the relationship between maternity and female work suggests that women will continue to enter into the market, in spite of the difficulties of their family condition. This, disregard of the adverse conditions that they face, whether they be within the family, in which the roles continue being unequally distributed, or in society, whose public and private social infrastructure continues below women’s needs”, suggests Cristina Bruschini, a researcher with the Carlos Chagas Foundation. “For this reason, any social policy that aims to benefit female workers must look for not only equality in the market and the protection of the workers who are mothers, but also create mechanisms that make a new division in family roles possible, with the members sharing professional and domestic responsibilities.”

“I don’t believe that a six month maternity leave is going to make the entrance of women into the work market difficult. I believe that it’s time for Brazil to show more respect towards all of us. At the end of the day we’re all professionals, (yes) but also mothers and we need to have tranquility (for us) to perform the difficult roles that we have in modern society”, explains Patrícia Saboya. It’s not enough to know them, one needs the conditions to raise them.