The First Lady of the Republic of Zambia, Dr. Christine Mwela Kaseba-Sata, urged African countries to rapidly ratify the Maternity Protection Convention (183) of the International Labour Organization to speed up women's social and economic empowerment in the region.
“The maternity protection convention and its accompanying recommendation ( 191 ) are core to decent work and can be used to socially and economically empower women. It is for that reason that State parties ought to ratify and implement the maternity protection convention 183 to safeguard the rights, health and economic security of women and their families”, Dr. Christine Mwela Kaseba-Sata said.
The First Lady was addressing participants to a Special Focus discussion on Achieving Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment and Gender Equality at the 12th ILO African Regional Meeting held in Johannesburg.
“Decent work and maternal health are interlinked and mutually reinforcing … For women to achieve economic and social empowerment, we need to invest in maternal health also”, Dr. Kaseba-Sata stated by highlighting the fact that “in order to access decent work, women workers need be protected during maternity”.
Morocco and Mali are the only two African countries that have ratified the Maternity Protection Convention.
“Providing access to decent employment for women is a very viable means of empowering women”, she stressed, adding that “there is no doubt that employment is the vital link in the women’s empowerment strategy”.
“I urge each one of you to put yourself in the shoes of a pregnant woman and her partner. Would you not expedite the ratification and domestication of the maternity protection convention within the framework of decent work”, the First Lady underscored.
The ILO has supported its tripartite constituents to conduct national studies and develop advocacy platforms on the economic and social benefits of better work-family balance and maternity protection. Following one such campaign in Angola, the government considered revising its maternity protection provision to entitle women workers to 90 days of maternity leave, to breastfeeding breaks and to an extra day of annual leave for each child under 14.
“It has been reported that over half a million women died from pregnancy-related complications and that four million babies die in the first week of birth while three million babies are born already dead”, stressed Dr. Kaseba-Sata.
Gender inequality in Africa is estimated to have reduced GDP growth in the region by almost 1% each year. The all female panel of the Special Focus discussion spoke in one voice to express that gender inequality and discrimination contributes negatively to the realization of economic empowerment of women in Africa.
Director of the ILO Bureau for Gender Equality, Ms. Jane Hodges, said despite some noticeable progress, African women continue to face gender-barriers to successfully participating in the workplace. She said women continued to suffer discrimination at the workplace due to discriminatory employment policies and recruitment practices.
“In Senegal and Mali, for example, women earn 66% of what men earn from similar work. However, there is an increasing intolerance of discrimination,” she stated.
“In South Africa, there is even a proposal to enforce equal pay for work of equal value; and fining companies up to 10% of their annual turnover for non-compliance”, concluded Jane Hodges.
The 12th ILO African Regional Meeting will end Friday with the adoption of a roadmap on how best to accelerate the implementation of the Decent Work Agenda in Africa 2007-2015.