Maternity Protection

Maternity protection: making it work in Africa

African countries have adopted maternity protection provisions, yet only two of them ratified ILO Convention No. 183 while most states fell short of the standards, a new ILO report revealed.

News | 13 May 2014
ADDIS ABABA (ILO News) – African countries have adopted maternity protection provisions, yet only two of them ratified ILO Convention No. 183 while most states fell short of the standards, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said in a new report.

The vast majority of women workers in the world – equivalent to around 830 million women – do not have adequate maternity protection. Almost 80 per cent of these workers are in Africa and Asia.

Among 51 African countries studied, only Mali and Morocco ratified Convention No. 183. The ILO Convention stipulates the prevention of exposure to health and safety hazards during pregnancy and nursing, entitlement to paid maternity leave, maternal and child health and breastfeeding breaks, and protection against discrimination and dismissal in relation to maternity, as well as a guaranteed right to return to work after maternity leave.

In its report, Maternity and Paternity at Work: Law and practice across the world, the ILO said among the 52 African countries analyzed, 48 per cent provide at least 14 weeks of leave, and 35 per cent provide 12 to 13 weeks. Around one in five of the African countries provides less than 12 weeks of leave.

Facts and figures

  • In Africa and Asia, only a minority of women in employment (less than 10 per cent) are effectively protected with maternity leave cash benefits.
  • Coverage in law in terms of maternity leave is 18 per cent of women workers in Africa with 21 African countries out of 52 providing a statutory right to maternity leave for less than 10 per cent of all employed women.
  • 33 countries in Africa offer breastfeeding breaks for at least six months and, of those, 29 countries made provision for at least a year.
  • Nearly all of the African countries calculate maternity benefits as a percentage of prior earnings. The exceptions are Seychelles, which pays women a flat rate benefit.
  • Of the 51 African countries assessed, 20 countries (39 per cent) provided for at least two thirds of earnings for 14 weeks.
  • In 21 countries,70 most of which lie in sub-Saharan Africa, less than 10 per cent of women workers are entitled to maternity leave cash benefits.
  • Employer liability systems are available in Africa where 40 per cent (21 countries, such as Cameroon, South Africa and the United Republic of Tanzania) rely on social security systems, 38 per cent (20 countries, the highest absolute number across the regions, including Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda) rely on employer liability systems and 21 per cent rely on mixed systems (such as Benin, Congo and Egypt).
In most African countries the duration of maternity leave in 2013 was the same as in 1994. However, seven countries have increased the duration of maternity leave: Egypt increased leave from 50 to 90 days; Kenya increased leave from two to three months; Libya increased leave from seven to 14 weeks in 2010; Morocco increased leave from 12 to 14 weeks; South Africa from 12 weeks to four months; Uganda increased leave from eight weeks to 60 working days (ten weeks); and Zimbabwe from 90 to 98 days. The percentage of countries in this region providing 14 to 17 weeks of leave has increased from 43 to 51 per cent.

In Africa, 76 percent of the 51 countries with information available provide some degree of compulsory leave (including Burundi, Madagascar and Uganda). Only 12 countries provide no compulsory leave (including Algeria, Malawi and Zambia, and concern regarding this situation has been raised by the CEACR on the application of Convention No. 103), while 37 provide at least six weeks of compulsory leave with the longest leave being in Angola, Congo, Ethiopia (nine weeks), and Seychelles (12 weeks).

Fourteen African countries provide leave for less than 14 weeks and rely on employers for all or at least one-third of cash maternity benefits, as is the case with Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda. Five countries have gaps in three provisions: Botswana, Eritrea, Nigeria, Rwanda and Swaziland.

In Africa, 84 per cent of the 51 countries with information available provide for additional leave, while eight countries provide no additional leave.

No or limited protection 

Almost 80 per cent of workers women are in Africa and Asia where some groups of workers are excluded from protection in law and in practice. This is often the case for self-employed, migrant, domestic, agricultural, casual or temporary workers, and indigenous and tribal peoples.

These are also the regions where employer liability schemes are more prevalent, informal work is predominant and maternal and child mortality ratios are still very high.

Paternity leave entitlements can be found in the national legislation of 29 African countries out of 167 for which data are available. Instead of dedicated paternity leave, several countries offer general emergency leave or family leave, in addition to annual leave, which can be used by new fathers at the time of childbirth. This type of leave is available in a number of African countries (including Libya, South Africa and Togo). In Chad, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and Madagascar, for example, the Labour Codes do not provide for any specific paternity leave, but they entitle all workers covered by the law to ten days’ leave a year for family events.

Next steps

The report urges governments to adopt and implement inclusive laws and policies for effective protection, noting that assessing gaps in current frameworks is a first step.

However, the report recommends that employers should not have to bear the full cost of benefits


  • Make maternity protection and work-family measures universal and make eligibility criteria inclusive.
  • Provide essential maternal health and income security around childbirth as part of basic social security guarantees.
  • Prevent and eliminate discrimination against women and men with family responsibilities, including through labour inspection and compliance services.
  • Reduce cost of maternity benefits on employers via collective pooling through social insurance or public funds.
  • Create a supportive workplace culture by extending options for work-life balance, such as flexible work arrangements, to all employees.
  • Support gender equality through the provision of high-quality, affordable and accessible childcare services.
  • Enable the equal sharing of family responsibilities between women and men.

For more information please contact: ILO Africa Communication team in Addis Ababa:  Tel: + 251/115-444415 or + 251/911-218115