Opinion

An argument for longer maternity leave

In recent times there have been various positive developments in matters concerning women and children.

One of such developments is the creation of the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOWSU) in the Police Service.

The consequence is that more and more persons, mostly males, who defile girls and even infants are made to face the full rigours of the law.

One school of thought says that the rise in the prosecution of defilers is not necessarily indicative of an increase in such behaviour. This school says that there has always been a high level of defilement.

In the past, there was a tendency to hide the actions of defilers for the settlement of matters at the level of the families involved.

Perhaps, now is the time to add the castration of defilers and even rapists, since from the psychological perspective such men, if released, tend to repeat such behaviour when the opportunity arises.

Another area of importance is to increase education for the girl-child. There needs to be even greater efforts in ensuring that girls receive good quality education. Aggrey’s contention that the education of the female results in significant benefits for the nation is a truism.

Educating females not only results in better health for women and their offspring, but also helps to ensure that their children, both male and female, receive education. The historical situation where boys were sent to school and girls kept at home that underlines the need for massive efforts to have children, especially females educated.

The struggle is not far from over, especially in relation to the high level of maternal and child mortality rate in developing countries, a factor which led the UN, at the turn of the century, to specifically make a 75 per cent reduction in both maternal and child mortality two of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The present regulation, which restricts maternity leave to three months, places an enormous burden on the working mother. This leads to an unhealthy situation where the pregnant mother tries to postpone taking leave at the eleventh hour.

Pregnancy itself places a great burden on women. The psychological and emotional strain on the working pregnant mother should be removed by policies. A more realistic solution is to allow pregnant mothers to proceed on maternity leave for a period of three months before the estimated date of delivery. This will allow for enough rest and avoid the strain which presents policy infliction on the pregnant working women.

In fact, the three months leave under the law is not realistic.

Present medical knowledge states that for the first six months, it is better to breastfeed exclusively, where possible. The situation where the nursing mother is allowed to leave the office early to attend to her baby, after the period of the maternity leave, does not result in the best possible care for the baby.

It is known as a medical fact that resorting to infant feeding on baby formula does not only result in inadequate nutrition at this stage, but also exposes the baby to negative situations such as increase in susceptibility to diarrhoea.

I suggest that from the time of delivery the working mother should have at least seven months of maternity leave in order to build the mother-to-child bond.

The crux of the matter is that the shift from breastfeeding to infant formula should not be an abrupt experience; the extra seven months allow for adequate weaning.

In Germany and other developed countries, it is not only women who go on maternity leave. The male parent also does. These maternity and paternity leaves are buttressed by law.

Such a situation in Ghana would enable men to support the upbringing of the infant and reduce the stress on the mother. It would also lead to a reduction in male chauvinism, a more balanced society and consequently the breakdown of gender inequality.

On the question of taking maternal leave at least three months before the birth of a baby, room should be provided for women who, from a physiological perspective, need an even longer period because of such dangers as spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. The recommendation from a doctor should allow an even longer pre-birth maternity leave period.

To conclude, the time for action is now and while it is hoped that women Members of Parliament (MPs) will take up the lead on this issue, it is also hoped that the male parliamentarians will give their support. After all, male parliamentarians may also be fathers who would have experienced the difficulty their wives go through during pregnancy.

I throw a challenge to women activists to embrace and support the struggle to change the existing policies on maternity leave.

Source: Daily Graphic/William Atta Warmann