Maternity protection for women workers has been a central issue for the International Labour Organization since its foundation in 1919, when the governments, employers and trade unions of member States adopted the first Convention on maternity protection. Over the course of its history, the ILO's member States have adopted three Conventions on maternity protection (No. 3, 1919; No. 103, 1952; No. 183, 2000). These Conventions, together with their corresponding Recommendations (No. 95, 1952; No. 191, 2000) have progressively expanded the scope and entitlements of maternity protection at work and provided detailed guidance orienting national policy and action. The core concerns have been to enable women to successfully combine their reproductive and productive roles, and to prevent unequal treatment in employment due to their reproductive role. Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
The ILO Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183) and the accompanying Maternity Protection Recommendation, 2000 (No. 191) have broken new ground in pre- and post-partum mother and infant health, maternity leave, and cash and medical benefits, thus strengthening the link between maternal health, discrimination against women of child-bearing age and the social and economic security women must be given in order to nurture and sustain future generations. Basic requirements of maternity protection include maternity leave, cash benefits during maternity leave, employment protection and non-discrimination, health protection and the right to breastfeed a child after return to work. All of these contribute to the economic security and health of working women and their families. Over time, the principles of ILO maternity protection Conventions have been universally embraced, with the result that at least some of these basic elements of maternity protection have been adopted into the legislation of virtually every nation in the world, regardless of whether they have ratified ILO Conventions on maternity protection or not. Photo:ILO/Maillard J.
While the Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183) extends the scope of coverage to all employed women, no matter what occupation or type of undertaking (including women employed in atypical forms of dependent work), large numbers of women continue to receive no protection where they are excluded by national labour legislation or social security systems. Even when vulnerable groups of women are covered by law, practical challenges remain in reaching them and giving effective access to maternity protection. Photo:ILO/Maillard J.
Experts have pointed to three delays that contribute to largely preventable maternal deaths in impoverished rural areas. There may be delays in seeking care, as women in many rural areas have the practice of giving birth to babies at home, with little or no skilled help. Many families shy away from what could be prohibitive costs of going to a hospital. Transportation to reach care facilities may be unavailable, too costly or the trip may simply take too long for a woman facing complications. And often when the women in delivery reach healthcare facilities, there may be shortages of staff, medicine, or equipment to provide quality interventions. Photo:ILO/Deloche P.
The lifetime risk of maternal death is 1 in every 16 births in the poorest developing countries, as opposed to 1 in every 4,000 in industrialized countries - the largest difference between any health indicator. While the maternal mortality ratio has dropped significantly in certain parts of the world, they are on the rise in others. It is estimated worldwide that one woman dies every minute from pregnancy complications or childbirth each year, with some experts believing the figure to be as high as 800,000. For every woman who dies, roughly 20 more suffer serious injury or disability - between 8 million and 20 million a year. Babies and young children who have lost their mothers in childbirth are up to 10 times more likely to die prematurely than their peers. Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
Gender disparities contribute greatly to the state of mother and child health in certain countries. Age-old patriarchal traditions and existing gender role models based on male superiority weigh in heavily. Girls and women may not have access to land, property or inheritance rights, and less chances for education. Girls may have limited access to health care and nutrition, thereby reducing their chances for healthy childbearing. Because of the low status of women, girls may be married off at an extremely young age even though most national legislation prohibits this. With little or no access to contraception and family planning, multiple births and the risk of death after several pregnancies is very real. It is therefore key to engage men as partners in maternal health. Helping men understand the risks of pregnancy can improve a woman┐s chance of survival, as demonstrated by some positive examples. Photo:ILO/Maillard J.
In developed countries and in the higher income strata of developing countries, access to good maternal health, assisted births and proper attention to early infancy is mostly available. Yet discrimination in the recruitment of women of childbearing age in the workforce does occur. Lower pay and low ranking jobs are often justified with the reasoning that women will probably leave to have children, and once they have children, they may leave or become unreliable workers. There are recorded cases of women being fired once they became pregnant. Misconceptions abound and yet major industries throughout the world depend on women's participation in the workforce. Photo:ILO/Deloche P.
Supporting father's role: paternity leave is seen as an important reconciliation of work and family life for men as well as an assistance to women. It creates an exceptional occasion for fathers to nurture their infants but also allows men to relieve women of many of the necessary burdens that face mothers with newborns. Paternity leave provisions are becoming more common and reflect evolving views of fatherhood. These shifts in relationships and perceptions of parenting roles may herald more gender-balanced approaches to caregiving and unpaid work. Duration and compensation of paternity leave varies. However, not all fathers take advantage of paternity leave. Families may be concerned about sacrificing income when paternity leave is unpaid. Even when paid, some men fear that they may hurt their careers, as they may be perceived as not having strong work ethics. Prevailing stereotypes of masculinity may clash with caretaking roles and thus influence their decisions as well. Photo:ILO/Mirza A.
Governments have the lead role in improving the health care systems of their countries and in raising awareness on social and economic implications of maternal and infant health, particularly for working women's employment. Providing basic services is not just a question of national income and subsequent expenditure on health, but also of national priority and commitment. Few countries currently ensure universal health coverage; so many groups of women may be left wholly or partly unprotected. Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
Workers organizations have long supported maternity protection as a basic right in striving towards equality in employment. Public Services International and Education International have been active in bringing the issue to the forefront. In 2007, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) disseminated guidance to promote the ratification of Convention No. 183. The publication of the ILO Bureau for Workers' Activities Gender Equality: A Guide to Collective Bargaining, featured practical advice to workers' organizations on social dialogue and maternity protection. Photo:ILO/Gianotti E.
Employers' organizations recognize that one of the major obstacles faced by women in achieving equality continues to be the difficulty of combining family responsibilities with work, and that women require special protection to ensure that their reproductive role does not count against them in their work and careers. A recent survey conducted by the International Organization of Employers (IOE) on workplace trends noted that more consideration was needed to study how childcare encouraged maternal consideration. The ILO Bureau for Employers' Activities has released a training package on work and family, notably addressing maternity protection, myths and misconceptions about workers with family responsibilities (including the recruitment of women of childbearing age). Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
Improving maternity protection and health through the workplace - Governments, employers' and workers' organizations could offer reproductive health education and services that include family planning information, counselling on gender relations, STDs and HIV/AIDS, and sexual abuse. Men should be especially targeted to highlight their responsibility in sexual relations and family care. Photo:ILO/Maillard J.