Home » Human Rights » Mixed Reactions to Extended Maternity Leave

Plans to extend maternity leave for nursing mothers have been received with mixed feelings with some women activists saying the move is progressive, while others are of the view that employers will discriminate against female workers.

The ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare recently said government was reviewing the Labour Act to realign it with the new constitution and key among the changes was an extension of maternity leave.

Giving oral evidence in parliament this week, director of labour administration in the Public Service ministry, Precious Sibiya, said the move had been necessitated by glaring evidence which suggested that women were not breastfeeding as much as they should due to the limited timeframe.

Currently, Zimbabwe is one of the countries with the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates in the region and yet the practice is beneficial for the baby.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that infants born to HIV-positive women be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, which not only helps safeguard their nutritional status but also significantly reduces their chances of contracting HIV.

Until recently, the WHO recommended that HIV-positive mothers avoid breastfeeding if they were able to afford formula milk.

However, further research has since emerged that shows that a combination of exclusive breastfeeding and the use of antiretroviral treatment can significantly reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to babies through breastfeeding.

HIV-positive mothers are now encouraged to exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months because of the Option B+ programme. Thereafter they can add on other foods and continue to breastfeed up to at least a year.

MP for Harare West, Jessie Majome said while the idea was noble, it was prudent to critically look at other issues like production which could obviously be affected by the longer periods that women would take away from work.

“There should be a balance to the whole scenario, especially with the current economic woes in this country,” she said.

Majome said it might actually create discrimination against women with employers opting for male employees to females who would then require long periods away from work to nurse their babies.

“Government should also chip in to help employers who are currently bearing the brunt. That should ease some of the pressure,” she said.

Director of Women in Sustainable Projects (Wisup), Karen Chikwata said women deserved longer maternity periods as raising children was a mammoth task.

“Everyone knows that nursing a baby is a 24-hour hands-on job. It is the least we can do for our women,” she said.

The Labour Act says employees need at least one year of service to qualify for paid maternity leave, which is 98 days. Female workers are also entitled to paid nursing breaks (at least one hour or two 30-minute breaks) for the period during which they actually nurse the children, or six months, whichever is the lesser.

Source : Zimbabwe Standard