Working mothers are leaving their babies to domestic workers soon after three months of maternity leave elapse, MP Frank Habineza said, proposing that such a leave should be doubled for better child care.
He made the proposal on March 21, during a parliamentary session that was analysing the bill which seeks to amend the law of 2018 governing labour in Rwanda.
People who reacted to the lawmaker’s proposal agreed that it is a good idea in regards to improving baby and mother care, but that the implementation would have an economic and labour implication that should be carefully considered.
“Three months of maternity leave are not enough for the mother to have provided the needed care to the baby. Often, you find that the infant is left to a domestic worker, and you realise that it negatively affects his or her growth,” Habineza said while elaborating his suggestion.
“I think that if possible, such a leave should be increased in the proposed Ministerial Order, to at least six months,” he suggested.
The Chairperson of the Committee on Social Affairs at the Lower House, MP Odette Uwamariya, said that adequate maternity leave was needed for the wellbeing of the mother and baby.
“A mother needs enough rest for their body to rebuild after giving birth, and also care for their newborn. And, it would be better if the mother is able to breastfeed a baby for the first six months without any other food supplement. That is what medical practitioners tell us that when a baby gets such care, it helps them grow well and healthy, and prevent malnutrition for the infant,” she said.
Aude Kaze, who holds a master’s degree in midwifery and maternity care, said that the lawmakers’ idea to increase maternity leave period is laudable. Kaze does pre- and post-natal classes, which are in line with maternity and child care.
“When a mother has had a very difficult delivery, the time for breast milk to be produced, the bonding between the mother and the newborn can take like two months,” she said, indicating that it is not good to tell such a mother to go back to work three months after giving birth.
“For instance, there is a mother who develops pathological pregnancy, which means she for example had diabetes, hypertension during pregnancy, and gave birth through cesarean section. For that mother to return to their normal state, it takes like two months,” she said, suggesting that mothers should get at least five months of maternity leave, adding that her salary should be guaranteed so that they are able to care for the baby’s needs.
A female secondary school teacher from Eastern Province, who preferred anonymity, supported the longer maternity leave proposal, referring to complications when a woman gives birth through cesarean section.
“Also, leaving the workplace for breastfeeding a baby is not possible when you work at a distant place from home. This causes the issue of breast milk clots which increase quickly because the milk is abundant during the first six months,” she said.
Another woman wondered whether there are employers who can hire a woman knowing that she will cost them more than a man.
“Instead, they should set up crèches in institutions, such that mothers leave their infants there under the care of trained nurses while they are at work. And they will go to look after them during the breastfeeding hours within the institution,” she said.
However, it is to note that during working days, an employed woman is entitled to one hour a day to allow her to breastfeed her child.
A 14-week maternity leave being considered
On the idea to increase the maternity leave to six months, the Minister of Public Service and Labour, Fanfan Rwanyindo said “this is something good and we endorse it, and we will continue to push so that we achieve it,” but indicated that it requires to further expand the social security system for that to be possible.
Meanwhile, Rwanyindo said that the current three months — or 12 weeks — of maternity leave in Rwanda, is two weeks short of the minimum 14 weeks mandated by the International Labour Organization (ILO) standards.
“We have not yet achieved that, so we wanted to add those two weeks, she said.
Again, ILO recommends increasing the maternity leave to at least 18 weeks (or four months and a half) to ensure an adequate rest and recovery time for the mother.
However, Rwanyindo told lawmakers that increasing maternity leave has a budgetary impact.
“If we say that we are going to increase the maternity leave by two weeks, we first have to discuss that with RSSB [Rwanda Social Security Board] so that it makes calculations to see whether that is possible, because it again requires that there is a contribution by the employer,” she said, explaining that employers in the public and the private sector have to agree on the contribution in question, and that there is money that has to be deducted from the employee’s salary.
The suggestion of MPs have raised much attention of people as some are wondering whether a longer maternity leave is not going to burst the risk of discrimination against female workers of childbearing ages in the hiring process.
According the deputy secretary general of Rwanda Workers’ Trade Union Confederation (CESTRAR) Jordi Michel Musoni, lengthy maternity leave might affect women’s labor market.
“This proposal is motivated by a progressive concern to improve the work-life balance for working parents and encourage greater parent/child contact in those crucial first months of a newborn’s life, but it is financial demanding for our level as a developing country and also a long absence from the workplace may break women’s ties to the labor market.”
He continued: “In private sectors we are still facing issues of employers who does not hire childbearing age women by avoiding three months maternity leave, six months would be worst for women working or seeking jobs in private sectors that’s why enforcement of labor law in private sector is needed.”
Musoni suggested that the additional 12 weeks on maternity leave should be flexible leave to balance the work with responsibilities of caring for the new baby.
This proposal came after several recommendations of different civil societies and human rights activists suggested maternity leave to be extended.