Request by nutrition experts to government to extend the current statutory maternity leave from three to six months offers mixed fortunes, and demands a trade-off. While the push makes the lives of working mothers easier, it chokes profit-driven workplaces.
Yet as the president of Uganda Nutrition Action Plan, Dr Elizabeth Madraa, rightly notes, the current maternity leaves days are not enough. Her concern is that this would force several mothers to resort to mixed feeding because they are not given enough time to breastfeed.
Therefore, a middle ground would be for employers to be responsive to the unique needs of working and breastfeeding mothers without compromising productivity. This is because the first six months is crucial for mothers and their babies, more so since it increases chances of babies growing up on breast milk, which is nutritious and fights off malnutrition.
For instance, Unicef and the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend that children should be exclusively breastfed during the first six months of their lives. According to WHO, children who receive only breast milk and no other foods or liquids, including water in the first six months of life are considered to have been exclusively breastfed. But mothers, particularly the working class, resort to providing early supplements or semi-solid foods, which increases babies’ risk of infection from bacteria and viruses.
Going forward, nutrition experts should push for enforcement of the Uganda Gender Policy, 2007, to address breastfeeding centre needs in all workplaces. This would help integrate the policy into workplaces and ensure its adoption. This also makes it urgent that the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development takes up the task to oversee the enforcement and monitoring of the Gender Policy, 2007.
Such a policy would create a win-win situation for working mothers and their employers.
Already, Uganda is one the 119 countries enforcing the minimum 12-week leave as demanded by the International Labour Office global standard Maternity Protection Convention.
Even then, a balance can still be reached on Dr Madraa’s proposal.
Parliament should think of Dr Madraa’s proposal in line with similar laws in Rwanda that provide for maternity leave and give mothers two hour off work daily, to breastfeed for the six months after giving birth.
This solution can increase child survival, improve productivity, save time; enhance concentration and efficiency of working mothers.