Maternity leave Why won't Ghana treat working mothers with respect?

As a working mother, Ruth Asiam left her baby Ethan in the care of a hired nanny who ended up mistreating him. Ruth asks why Ghana does not do more to help mothers like her.

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play Ruth Asiam with her baby Ethan, when he was three months. (Supplied )
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Opinion: As a new working mother I always left my 7 months old baby in the care of a nanny. Though being at work and away from my son always left me feeling empty, being at home wasn't fulfilling enough for me. So what the heck was I supposed to do?

Hiring a nanny to me was the best option. But things did not go as planned. Per the agreement she was supposed to take care of my baby and give him the needed attention, but that was not the case. She maltreated him, overfeed him to make him sleep and if he didn't, she then pinched him to cry till he slept.

On my return she would act nice to me and pretend to have given my son the best care in my absence.

I can also recount moments where people asked me to quit my job and stay home with my son until he was a year old. Others also advised that I go with my baby to work provided it was convenient enough, but that was just not possible since my office was not baby friendly.

Another mother recounts her ordeal of her daughter being sedated so she would sleep almost everyday at a daycare centre. She narrated that her playful and energetic daughter became dull and slept a lot when they returned home. This change caught her attention to investigate the cause, only to be led to this horrifying truth - her 5 months old baby, together with other children, were being sedated.

Though childbirth is a part of life that is unique to women, it is also one of the factors that limits women in their careers through the world. Ghana is no exception.

The reality on the ground here is that some employers find cunning ways of terminating appointments with female employees once they get pregnant, giving them the excuse that they are allowing them more time to attend to their babies - as if childbearing is a curse.

This happened to a pregnant young lady I met.

Her employer fired her, telling her it was in her own interests, as it would allow her to have time for herself and the unborn baby. She returned to work after delivery to be told to reapply for a job she had had for almost four years.

These sad and horrifying incidents brings me back to a communique by the Ghana Medical Association in November 2012 which was signed by its President Dr. Kwabena Opoku-Adusei and General Secretary Dr. Frank Serebour at the end of the 54th annual general conference of the Association held in Cape Coast, it called for the review of labour laws to grant mothers six months maternity leave and a mandatory establishment of nurseries in all public and private institutions, but this call seems to have fallen on deaf ears after four good years.

There have been calls to create a more effective action in favour of women’s development since gender activists believe that women are disadvantaged in many areas.

But even so, men and women were created differently and as such have different roles and responsibilities to perform at one point in time.

Some will argue that women cannot shed their responsibility by wanting to 'rock shoulders with men'.

But should that really be an excuse to deny women the right to enjoy the privileges due them?

Unlike men, women were created to menstruate, go through childbearing and breastfeed their babies exclusively for six months, or longer if they wish.

Women are naturally inclined towards taking care of the family especially the children that are brought forth.

These biological roles tend to limit women in one way or the other, thus the need for a favourable condition which will help women to match up to higher standards and also climb higher on the gender equality ladder.

A woman who gives birth needs to have enough rest and ideally be able to breastfeed her baby for six months.

But does the issue of maternity leave affect a certain group of people? I am yet to hear a woman from the affluent lot complain about the current standards of maternity leave and the challenges that comes with it.

According to the GMA, expectant mothers should be asked to start their maternity leave six weeks before delivery. But will employers agree to this call? Will they be willing to pay an employee for six months without them working?

Lactating mothers can send their babies to their work places and attend to them with all the comfort that requires, if only organisations were willing to create a baby-friendly environment.

The prevailing labour laws have no clear provision for working parents. The laws state clearly that pregnant and lactating mothers are entitled to some privileges:

  • Pregnant women should not be assigned or employed for night work except with their consent, neither should they be engaged for overtime.

  • Pregnant women after their period of confinement are entitled to a minimum of 12 weeks leave with full pay. Such workers in addition, are also entitled to annual leave with full pay. In case of abnormal delivery, a woman worker's maternity leave should be given an extra two weeks.

  • Nursing mothers on the other hand are also entitled to interrupt their working hours for an hour each day to nurse their babies for up to one year.

  • A nursing mother cannot be dismissed from work for reason of her absence from work on maternity leave. She will be also entitled to sick leave with pay.

It will surprise you to know that some female employees do not enjoy these privileges. Some organisations do not allow babies in their facility for any reason whatsoever.

I am therefore calling on the various women's rights activists, all female parliamentarians, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection Nana Oye Lithur, and the First Lady Mrs. Lordina Mahama to support the call for the amendment of the labour law to grant mothers six months maternity leave and a mandatory establishment of nurseries in all public and private institutions.

If children are gifts from God as we always say, why don't we as a country protect, nurture and care for this gift with all our resources and invest in these babies by giving them a good start to make them responsible adults to serve this country.

I will conclude with a verse from the Bible which says “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”,Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

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