Maternity protection

Since the ILO was founded in 1919, international labour standards have been established to provide maternity protection for women workers. The International labour standard instruments on maternity protection are the most recent ILO standards, which expand the scope and entitlements of maternity protection at work to all employed women, including those employed in atypical forms of dependent work.

The key elements of maternity protection reflect the concern to ensure that women’s work does not pose risks to the health of the woman and her child and that women’s reproductive roles do not compromise their economic and employment security. These elements include the right to:

  • maternity leave;
  • cash benefits to ensure the mother can support herself and her child during leave;
  • medical care;
  • protection of the health of pregnant and breastfeeding women and their children from workplace risks;
  • protection from dismissal and discrimination; and
  • breastfeeding on return to work.

Maternity protection for women workers contributes to the health and well-being of mothers and their babies, and thus to the achievement of Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 adopted by the member States of the United Nations, which seek the reduction of child mortality and improvement of the health of mothers. And by safeguarding women’s employment and income security during and after maternity, maternity protection is also essential for ensuring women’s access to equality of opportunity and treatment in the workplace, and progress towards Millennium Development Goal 3, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.

What we do

The Conditions of Work and Employment Programme is working in partnership with the ILO tripartite partners and other concerned groups and organizations to promote policies and measures which are in line with relevant international labour standards on maternity protection.

What's new

  1. "Maternity Protection Resource Package. From Aspiration to Reality for All"

    The Maternity Protection Resource Package provides inspiration and tools to help organizations and individuals everywhere to strengthen and extend maternity protection to all women in all types of economic activity. The Package can be used as a reference for self-learning, training, policy advice, research and action by governments, trade unions, employers' organizations, ILO and UN officials, NGOs, researchers and practitioners. Numerous examples of actions in improving maternity protection at work around the world are highlighted throughout the Package, for guidance and inspiration. The message of the Package is that maternity protection at work for all is both possible and desirable, as it contributes to equitable economic growth, social cohesion and Decent Work for all women and men.

  2. Achieving MDG 5 through Decent Work

    01 May 2010

    For the first time in decades, encouraging progress has been made towards Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG 5), with global maternal mortality rates having fallen by nearly 35 per cent. However, among low-income countries with longstanding high maternal death rates, progress varied considerably and only 23 countries are on track to achieve a 75 per cent decrease in maternal deaths by 2015. Stronger commitments and better cooperation between UN agencies, governments and other development partners are needed to broadly achieve MDG 5.

  3. Questions and answers about maternity at work

    23 June 2010

    Maternity protection has been a primary concern of the ILO since its creation, in 1919, when the first International Labour Conference adopted the first Maternity Protection Convention No. 3. A new publication on the state of maternity protection in the world has just been released by the ILO. Interview with Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO Conditions of Work and Employment Programme, about achievements made and persisting challenges for maternity protection, including the impact of the current economic and employment crises.