Maternity Protection Theories

Maternity Protection Theories

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Maternity Protection Theories

Maternity protection for employed women is important to their well-being and health as well as to that of their children. Givati and Troiano (2012) and Krief et al. have the same view that mandated maternity leave is one of the essential policies that encouraged the persistent participation of women in the labor force. In addition, maternity leave is essential to ensure women have access to appropriate and descent working conditions, and to achieve gender balance, as it permits women to fuse their productive and reproductive functions, and to curtail unfair treatment in employment because of the reproductive function that women have to play (Kamerman & Kahn, 1978). Maternity protection for working women has been a major concern of various international groups that aspire to champion for policies that allow women to enjoy maternity leave without compromising their work (Kamerman & Kahn, 1979). Consequently, the report reviews literature that expounds on the issue of maternity protection at work. It shows how the UN through its various agencies such as the ILO enacts guidelines that encourage maternity protection at work. It emerges that even though workstations and countries adhere to different frameworks and policies, allowing maternity leave has numerous benefits. The study identifies areas for improvement and give recommendations for addressing some of the concerns. The argument is that employers present their workstations as being gender sensitive by encouraging maternity protection while women get the opportunity to perform their reproductive function without fear for their economic well-being.

Groups that Advocate for Maternity Protection

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has been instrumental in advocating for maternity leave while ensuring that working women all over the globe have a chance to enjoy this fundamental protection. Safeguarding maternity leave for women has been a vital concern of the organisation since its establishment in 1919, when the trade unions, employers, and governments of member states embraced the initial Convention on protecting and upholding maternity leave (International Labour Organization, 2012). Over the course of its operations, the ILO has adopted and worked on the implementation of three crucial Conventions on this matter – No. 3 of 1919, No. 103 of 1952, and No. 183 of 2000 (International Labour Organization, 2012). For example, No. 183 advocates for maternity fortification for all women in formal workstations, encompassing non-standard and atypical works, as well as in the informal sector of the economy. A typical work comprises a wide range of work plans, such as seasonal, casual, and part-time work, as well as remote, home-based, and agency works. These directives, together with their corresponding suggestions, including No. 95 of 1952 and No. 191 of 2000 have over the years broadened the entitlements and scope of maternity protection at the workplace and offered in-depth guidelines to instigate action and foster creation of national policies (International Labour Organization, 2012; International Labour Organization, 2014). The ILO expects employers to adhere to these provisions and encourages mass awareness to sensitise working women and relevant family members such as the father.

The ILO provides additional guidance that helps to understand maternity leave and how employers need to consider its application. The organization identifies maternity protection as having two primary objectives. One of these is to uphold the health of both the mother and the newborn, and the second aim is to offer a measure of economic assurance for the concerned parties, often the women and their families (Kennedy & Kodate, 2015). Besides, ILO acknowledges that care responsibilities that working parents provide for their children go beyond birth and the end of paternity and maternity leave. This is why the ILO offers a set of measures and policies that trade unions, employers, governments and others can adopt to allow women and men to give continued attention for their children, while encouraging productive and descent work to everyone’s gain. Strang and Broeks (2016) share the same view with the ILO that while maternity protection is a collective obligation, it generates both collective and individual gains. The delivery of maternity protection at the workstation results in positive results for the mother, the child, community, society, and the economy. The argument by Strang and Broeks and ILO shows why maternity protection is essential to a series of development agendas and goals.

The ILO identifies five core elements of maternity protection that employers must consider and workers should understand to be able to champion for their rights with regard to enjoying maternity leave. The five core elements of maternity protection are enshrined in Convention No. 183 and Recommendation No. 191 (International Labour Organization, 2012). The first core element is maternity leave, which is the woman’s rights to a period of rest from work in accordance with pregnancy, childcare, and postnatal period. The area calls for maternity protection for every woman, in the formal and informal economies. The second element, cash and medical benefits emphasises that the mother has the right to remuneration benefits during her leave (International Labour Organization, 2012). The third element, health protection at the workstation calls for adequate attention on this area to ensure the mother and unborn child are safe during pregnancy and the time of breastfeeding. The third element is employment protection and non-discrimination, which requires employers to guarantee working women the security of their job and the right to resume duty after the duration of the leave lapses (International Labour Organization, 2012). Lewis et al. (2014) inform that the security should assure the woman that they would resume the same position or an equivalent one. In addition, the element forbids any form of discrimination against a woman while at their workstation or while searching for employment because of their reproductive function. The final core element of maternity protection is breastfeeding arrangements that employers should put in place to ensure working women to express milk or breastfeed at the workstation for some time after resuming work (International Labour Organization, 2012). Adhering to all these provisions presents a better chance for an organisation to confidently say that it observes maternity protection at work.

The UN has other sets of guidelines that champion for adherence to maternity leave at all workstations. However, it is imperative to acknowledge that these guidelines tend to vary from one place to the other, and take effect differently. Givati and Troiano (2012) show that whereas mandated maternity leave is crucial policy that encourages women’s participation in the labour force, there is broad discrepancy in the way of application and duration of maternity leave that employers and nations allow. Givati and Troiano (2012) actually choose to center their study on examining why some nations allow that employers offer a prolonged maternity leave, while others permit only a short one. For example, The United Nations Office Nairobi (UNON) Joint Medical Service provides guidelines that employers in the region should follow in the Maternity Leave – Rule 106.3 (UNON, 2021). The rule requires staff members to avail a letter from practitioner confirming expected date of delivery (EDD) two months before going to the clinic. The regulation further stipulates that leave commences six weeks prior to the EDD upon provision of a certificate from a qualified midwife or practitioner indicating the EDD (UNON, 2021). Nevertheless, the rule states that a staff member may choose to commence the break two weeks prior to the EDD if she chooses but must give a midwife’s certificate showing her level of fitness to continue serving past the six weeks. The doctor can only give the certificate at six weeks before the indicated EDD. Moreover, the rule directs that the leave shall not be below ten weeks, which implies that if a mother delivers after the EDD, she still enjoys the ten weeks granted for the leave (UNON, 2021). The rule further indicates that employees on request may be allowed to resume work after the premium duration of not less than six weeks. Overall, the entire duration for maternity leave as stipulated in Rule 106.3 is sixteen weeks (112 days) from the time it commences and comprises of public holidays and weekends. However, the regulation does not have provision for sick leave during maternity leave (UNON, 2021). Thus, employers in Kenya must adhere to these and other directives as outlined in the rule.

Qatar also adheres to its directives that are quite different from those stipulated in Rule 106.3. The Labour Law regulates most of expatriate workforce in Qatar other than those whose responsibilities are excluded by provisions of Article 3 encompassing, but not restricted to, employees from state agencies and ministries, firms established by Qatar Petroleum and domestic employees (Law Business Research, 2020). Where workers are omitted from the Labour Law, their employment is subjected to regulatory and legal measures such as the Qatar Petroleum policies, Civil Law, and Human Resource Law. In this instance, workplace leave will be perceived differently (Law Business Research, 2020). Specifically, Article 96 of the Labour Law stipulates that female workers who have finished one complete year of work with their employer shall be eligible for fifty days leave with complete payment, postnatal and prenatal periods included, given that the postnatal period only lasts less than thirty-five days. Article 96 clarifies that maternity leave is in inclusion of and does not tamper with the female workers’ right to securing any other leave. Moreover, the leave is subject to the provision of a medical certificate provided by a practitioner indicating the EDD (QFC Regulatory Authority, 2020). Article 96 further directs that in case the postnatal period leave does not go beyond thirty-five days, the female worker may be permitted complementary leave by the firm which is deducted from the worker’s yearly break allowance or be deemed as unpaid leave. If a female worker is not able to resume work as a result of postnatal complications by the time the leave comes to an end, Article 96 the additional duration of leave will be without payment taking into account it does not surpass sixty days (QFC Regulatory Authority, 2020). It is also subject to a subject to a certificate indicating the worker’s medical condition being issued by a licensed practitioner. In addition, Article 96 directs that a female worker is nursing her child is also eligible for a nursing hour every day for a duration of one year after the child’s birth. Nonetheless, the employer is not allowed to define the schedule of the leave and it shall be deemed part of the worker’s working time with no elimination in payment (Law Business Research, 2020). However, the Labour Law does not have any provisions for paternity leave that male employees enjoy in other jurisdictions. Thus, the provision of Article 96 further illustrate how maternity protection works differently in different countries.  

Why Emphasize on Maternity Protection

Evidence show that upholding maternity protection at work is essential and generates numerous benefits. Stumbitz et al. (2017) assert that it is important to observe maternity protection at the workplace because it is a vital human right and serves as a prerequisite for gender balance in the work sector. Moreover, Stumbitz et al. (2017) call for adherence to maternity protection at work because it makes it easier to enhance the health of both the mother and the child and adds to economic growth and helps to eradicate poverty. Abderhalden-Zellweger et al. (2021), on the other hand, think that maternity protection is vital to the realization of the Decent Work Agenda that was formed by the ILO in 1999 around four pillars; social dialogue, social protection, rights at the workplace, and creation of employment (d’Orey, 2017; European Commission, 2022; International Labour Organization, 2022). Besides, it is important to advocate for maternity protection at work because Abderhalden-Zellweger et al. (2021) argue that focusing on this area adds onto the realisation of certain Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), such as MDG 1 that focuses on mitigating extreme hunger and poverty, MDG 3 that seeks to empower women and promote gender balance. Adherence to maternity protection according to International Labour Organization (2015) makes it possible to achieve MDG 4 that aims at minimising child mortality, MDG 5 that aspires to advance maternal health, and finally MDG 6 that focuses on suppressing malaria, HIV/AIDS and other ailments. The views by various scholars suggest the need to pay more attention to this area. Kamerman and Kahn (1979) believe that maternity protection at work is essential because it helps to ensure that the economic activities of women do not present any risks to their health and well-being and that of the child, and to ensure that the reproductive function of the woman does not affect their employment and economic security.

Areas for Improvement

One area that requires transformation to improve maternity protection at the workplace is to try and achieve harmony in the duration of maternity leave to discard the notion that countries or employers who give shorter duration are tolerant to gender-based discrimination. The findings by Cruz (2012) and Givati and Troiano (2012) illustrate the need to achieve harmony in the length of maternity leave. Givati and Troiano (2012) incorporate into a standard mandated-gain framework social lenience of gender-based discernment, indicating that the maximum duration of maternity leave relies on it. The researchers find that the less lenient a society is of a gender-based discrepancy, the more prolonged the maternity leave it will allow. Depending on of research performed in linguistics and psychology based on which patterns in language provide a widow into the dispositions of their speakers, Givati and Troiano (2012) gather new set of data on the rate of gender-differed forms across languages to capture the attitudes of societies towards gender-based bias. Then, utilising cross-country information on duration of maternity leave, while regulating for other factors, Givati and Troiano (2012) discover a substantial connection between people’s language-based view of attitudes and the period of maternity break. The research’s findings shows the need to review existing regulations to achieve a scenario where nations and employers adhere to a harmonized framework such that some women do not take longer caring for their newborns while others hardly get enough time.

It is also important to mention that regardless of the many attempts to achieve inclusivity in the achievement of maternity protection at the workplace, many women still do not enjoy such rights and are vulnerable to throughout the process, while living in fear that work may affect their maternal health, or that maternity may distablise their economic security and livelihoods. Sudhinaraset et al. (2017) reveal that women do not enjoy proper maternity protection at work because they are not entitled to the right or because their employers do not acknowledge or observe such provisions. Often women are excluded from enjoying the right due to factors such as omission from the legal scope of maternity protection, which also means that they are not adequately covered in the social security or labour legislation (International Labour Organization, 2012). Such exclusions according to Fallon et al. (n.a.) usually depend on national conditions and cover categories such as temporary or casual workers, the armed forces workforce, employees in the agricultural sector, and staff members in small enterprises. Moreover, women are secluded from maternity protection on terms of eligibility requirements because it emerges that some women do not enjoy maternity protection, because they do not achieve the qualifying factors that have been prescribed for accessing cash benefits and leave (International Labour Organization, 2012). Another reason for exclusion is the implementation gap that can emerge from lack of awareness or communication about rights, absence of political resources or will for implementation, or inability to reach social security plans so that women who are economically unstable can be in a position to achieve legal benefits (International Labour Organization, 2012). Addisse (2003) thinks that it would be difficult to achieve inclusive maternity protection at the workplace unless concerned stakeholders address these areas. Employers need to enact measures and policies that observe the right and create a condition where female employees can claim for maternity leave (Smith et al., 2020). Even though the exclusions may vary across sectors, helping women to meet qualifying conditions and spreading the message to reach as many working women as possible would go a long way into ensuring women enjoy this crucial right (International Labour Organization, 2012). Hence, all stakeholders should work towards eradicating the stumbling blocks to improve maternity protection at work.


The study identifies the need for employers to observe maternity protection and perceive it as a crucial element to consider. The UN though its agencies, especially the ILO has come out boldly to express its desires and directives on maternal protection. The ILO expects employers to adhere to the five core elements of maternity protection at work – maternal leave, cash and medical gains, health protection at the workstation, employment fortification and non-discrimination, and breastfeeding arrangement at the workplace. The study shows the need to observe maternity protection while acknowledging that the protection is a basic human right, promotes gender equality, helps to foster mother and child health, adds to economic growth and poverty eradication, and is key to the realisation of the Decent Work Agenda. In addition, the study reveals that adhering to maternity protection makes it possible to achieve particular MDGs. Finally, the paper reiterates the need to achieve harmony in the duration of maternity leave as well as the importance of eradicating factors that exclude women from enjoying the fundamental right.


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