According to the Ghana Labour Act of 2003 section 55-57 women are guaranteed 90 days paid maternity leave, and protection from work dismissal due to pregnancy. However in the media and other professions women lose their jobs when they get pregnant, and few have access to paid maternity leave.
A survey of women in both public and private media professions released last week found that very few women have access to paid maternity leave or job security when they get pregnant. The survey of 257 media women was done by the School of Communications at the University of Ghana. Of the women surveyed only 26% said they had received pay on maternity leave.
Female teachers in the Ashanti region have also reported similar conditions. AdomOnline reported in October 2013 that several teachers had been sacked for getting pregnant. Those who had succeeded in raising alarm to the respective regional regulatory body were told that the individual school heads had sole discretion over dismissals, and could not get their jobs back. And those heads of schools denied that the dismissals were because the teachers got pregnant. Several of the female teachers in this region reported that they were afraid of getting pregnant and were delaying having children to keep their jobs.
Despite these already existing issues with the implementation and protection of women’s rights under the Ghana Labour Act, the nation’s medical association has advised that maternity leave be raised yet still to 6 months. At the 54th annual general conference of the Ghana Medical Association held at Cape Coast, a release was signed by 500 medical doctors and practitioners advocating for 6 months maternity leave to improve infant mortality rates. The doctors argue that given the proven benefits of six months of exclusive breastfeeding, the current three months maternity leave should be increased to six months. They stressed that this was especially relevant as some mothers are asked to start their maternity leave six weeks prior to delivery.
While the Labour laws make provisions for nursing mothers to leave work for up to an hour a day for their babies, there is no provision in the law that says that employers most provide nurseries for their female employees. Nursing mothers can not bring their babies to work let alone take the break to nurse them as guaranteed by the law.
The advocates argue that unfavourable working conditions, have had an adverse affect on the number of women exclusively breastfeeding their babies in Ghana. In 2011 the number of mothers who said they were only breastfeeding their babies was 43%, a third less than what was reported in 2008 when 63% of women said they breastfed. This has raised concerns amongst public health officials who say that the gains in the reduction of infant mortality in Ghana will be lost if these trends continue.
In the West African sub region, a majority of the countries offer paid maternity leave with the exception of Liberia which like its sister country the USA does not offer paid maternity leave. Ghana and Nigeria offer less than 14 weeks paid maternity leave while the rest of the region offers between 14-24 weeks.
For countries still dealing with high mortality rates, and malnourishment as high as 40% in all infants, it seems counter productive that working mothers would be forced to endure conditions that could put their babies’ health at risk. African women deserve better working conditions when they choose to become mothers, and the state must ensure that they are protected under the law.