Pregnancy, childbirth and breast feeding are uniquely female experiences. While a woman’s role in reproduction fulfills the important social function of ensuring the continuity of the human race, it is also one which challenges her endeavour to enter the public sphere of paid employment. The creation and maintenance of a public and private divide and the setting of norms in the public sphere on the basis of male standards are barriers women have long fought to surmount.
The aim of this paper is to study the laws governing maternity benefits in Sri Lanka, in order to uncover the foundations on which these laws are built. The study is normative in nature, focusing on applicable legislation in Sri Lanka. Therefore it discusses the provisions containing maternity benefits in the shop and Office Employees Act, the Maternity Benefits Ordinance and the provisions of the Establishment Codes relevant to state sector employees including university employees. The benefits studied are maternity leave, pay, nursing intervals, job security, health and safety of mother and child, paternity benefits and crèche facilities. The paper then critically analyzes and compares the applicable laws. It concludes by highlighting the lack of uniformity among the legislation and investigating the likely rationales for this difference through a feminist lens focusing on the public-private divide, and the ‘equality’ and ‘different’ or ‘special’ approaches.