The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Challenges of Working Mothers

Babies are supposed to breastfeed after every 2 to 3 hours daily in order to keep healthy and get all the required nutrients, according to research.

Newborns should not go more than 4 hours without feeding.

UNICEF and the World Health Organisation recommend that children be exclusively breastfed during the first six months of their lives.

Early supplements such as powdered milk or semi-solid complementary food is discouraged because it exposes infants to pathogens (bacteria or viruses that are capable of causing disease) and increases the babies' risk of infection.

Under the old Labour Code, women were entitled to three months maternity leave but it has now been halved.

With the one and a half month maternity leave, having the baby breastfed exclusively for the recommended months has increasingly become problematic, especially now that women constitute a big number of the country's workforce.

The Director of Labour and Administration in MIFOTRA, Alexander Twahirwa, said the reason why the maternity leave was reduced was because of complaints that Rwanda has longer maternity leave compared to other countries.

"According to the Doing Business Report and other investors in Rwanda, the country offered many days in maternity leave. Investors were complaining of spending a lot of money on women going for maternity leave, who would also spend a long time when they are not productive. We hope to review the labour law though and some amendments might be made," he said.

This, however, is disputed by some mothers, because compared to neighbouring countries; maternity leave is three months in Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi while in Uganda it is two months.

Eva Kanzaire, an administrator at Nation Media Holdings, is a mother of a two-month old baby.

When she gave birth, she worked with a government body and she was not a permanent employee, she was only given two weeks maternity leave. However, even if she had had a contract, she would still be entitled to only one and a half months, which she says is insufficient.

Kazaire is one of the many women who express disapproval of the maternity leave, arguing that it's very little for both mother and baby.

"The baby can't only breastfeed for one month and two weeks. In most cases, the mother's body hasn't healed properly. It's very tiresome to juggle between work and home to breastfeed. At some point women just give up and feed their children on powdered milk which is not be recommended for babies below six months," she said.

Within the law that provides for the maternity leave, mothers are given two hour off work daily, to go breast feed their babies.

Kazaire says it isn't enough, because if a mother leaves for work at around 7h00am then their babies next feed at lunch time(1h00pm),then again at around 5h00pm when the mother is back from work, it means they aren't feeding enough.

Another mother, who preferred anonymity, has a one-month baby girl. She has already secured tins of powdered milk to train her baby so she gets used to this kind of milk early enough since the mother will be returning to work in a few weeks.

She says she doesn't have a choice since she can't let her baby starve yet she knows she won't be able to feed her enough.

Her home is in Kibagabaga, in Gasabo district, miles away from her work place in downtown Kigali, she laments, saying that she would only spend the hour on the road to and from home.

Her biggest worry however is that the babies at this tender age are so fragile so they really need the mother's attention and not a maid who has probably never given birth.

Connie Bwiza, a Member of Parliament, says that a law is enacted after wide consultations between different line ministries, stakeholders and various public consultations.

She however also concurs that the days for maternity leave aren't enough for the mother and child.

"Even the three months weren't enough for women to heal and for their babies to amply breastfeed. Women shouldn't however look at it in the cultural perspective but instead devise healthy options especially for babies, by pumping the breast-milk, keep it in favourable conditions so the baby can feed on breast milk even in their mother's absence," she said.

Bwiza stated that however much the law might not be exhaustive, advocacy should continue to allocate women more time for maternity leave.

According to the law, in the six weeks following the original maternity leave, a woman has a choice between returning to work and earning full salary or staying on leave and earning 20 percent of her salary.

She is also entitled to "two hour" [presumably, two hour-long] breaks every day to breast feed for six months after giving birth.

The Secretary General of Cotraf, a labour union that brings together 21,000 workers, Francois Ntakiyimana, said that this is totally unfair to give women only a fifth of their salary if they exceed maternity leave.

He said an insurance scheme, maternity fund, was to be introduced to cover part of the salary that mothers will not be getting from their employers, but up to today, it has never been implemented.

The scheme was supposed to operate in a way that both employees and employers contribute to the pool whereby employees contribute 1.5 percent of their gross salary to the fund while the employers top it up with 0.5 percent.

"Women are going to abandon their children because they need to work and get their full salary to fend for themselves. This is likely to have a negative health effect on both mother and child. We are going to carry out advocacy for this problem to be solved," he said.

According to Twahirwa, the law establishing the maternity insurance fund is still being negotiated and could be implemented anytime soon. This way, mothers will be entitled to their full salary even during their maternity leave.

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