Education International
Education International

Maternity protection and social benefits vital to women

published 21 January 2011 updated 21 January 2011

In a workshop session on ‘Maternity Protection and Social Benefits’ at the EI World Women’s Conference,participants shared concerns about the lack of maternity protection and the curtailment of social benefits on women worldwide.

The delegates at the workshop stated that a healthy maternity starts with women’s right to receive sexual education, to have appropriate information about their bodies, and, most of all, to decide if and when they want to become a mother. Delegates gave accounts of their experiences in their own countries and emphasized the importance of societies recognizing the right to information and education about sexuality, in particular for girls. Having maternity protection implies defending women workers’ fundamental rights, including the right to have a good job with a good salary and to have guaranteed access to appropriate healthcare during pregnancy, when giving birth and for a significant period thereafter. Providing maternity protection also implies a social transformation, redefining family responsibilities, so that, not only mothers but fathers as well, can take care of the children. Nancy Kerr, from Canada, spoke about the introduction of maternity provisions in employment for women teachers, and how such benefits were often achieved through difficult campaigns which included legal proceedings. Virginia Albert-Poyotte, Coordinator in the EI Caribbean sub-regional office, said that, despite it being a difficult struggle, progress had been made through the collective efforts of women. Workshop participants noted that it was significant that only Canada, Australia and Sweden reported full maternity protection and parental benefits, shared by both male and female teachers. Other countries had failed to ratify the 2000 ILO Convention 183 on maternity protection. Only 18 countries have ratified it to-date. In Latin America, for example, 8 countries - Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Uruguay, and Venezuela - have so far ratified this international standard.

The workshop participants did acknowledge that, even in countries where the government had not ratified the Convention, unions were gaining maternity and social benefits for their members through campaigning and collective bargaining agreements. Unions were running public campaigns to promote the case for such benefits. Milagros Ogalinda from the Philippines outlined concrete steps which unions could take to persuade governments to sign the ILO Convention. It was highlighted by participants that the EI networks play a vital role in assisting unions with advocacy for maternity protection and benefits.

In conclusion, participants agreed that these issues must be pursued in the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, through the Beijing Platform of Action, in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and through ILO Conventions and other agreements and declarations addressing discrimination faced by women globally.