Rwanda Focus (Kigali)

Rwanda: Maternity Leave Imbalance Might Soon Come to an End

The disparity between the situation in the public and formal private sector when it comes to the duration and benefits received during maternity leave has been a cause for debate and complaint from women who work in the private sector.

According to the law regulating labor, a woman in the private sector who has given birth is entitled to six weeks of fully paid leave. If she wants to extend her leave to twelve weeks, she will receive at least 20% of her salary during those following six weeks, although the employer can decide to grant more.

Women working in the public sector, on the other hand, get their full salary for the entire twelve weeks of their maternity leave.

"I find the difference unfair considering the fact that both the women working in public or private sector have been through the same process of giving birth," comments Alice Uwingeneye, who works for a private company.

In addition to the unfairness to the mother, Uwingeneye considers that at six weeks the baby is too small to be left home. "If a baby is two or three months, then leaving him or her and having just an hour to breastfeed would be bearable," she says.

Despite having the option to extend their leave to 12 weeks, the women in the private sector say they are under too much pressure to really consider it. "20% of my salary would not be sufficient to support me and my family," remarks Anna Irakoze, a working mother. "I had no choice but go back to work even if I was not fully recovered."

However, opinions diverge when it comes to employers in the formal private sector. Some are happy to give the women the 12 weeks, or at least two months, with full salary and one month half-salary. But others find six weeks already too long. "I would just give them one month," says Emmanuel Kabera, a businessman.

Kabera's argument is that if you have many women and two or three give birth in the same year, the company will have to function for more than six months with one of the women being absent. "It is not good for business," he remarks.

Insurance

Damien Nzamwita, in charge of social security policy and child labor control at the ministry of public service and labor (Mifotra), says they are well aware of the complaints from women in the private sector and all the complexities of the situation.

"Those employers are investors, so their interests are also considered by the government," he said, adding that on the other hand they try to make sure that the welfare of the employees is taken care of as is the obligation of companies.

"20% of my salary would not be sufficient to support me and my family. I had no choice but go back to work even if I was not fully recovered."

"A provision about maternity insurance is under examination by the cabinet but no decision has yet been made," he said, explaining that it would allow the women to take twelve weeks of maternity leave and still receive their full salary from the insurance without the employer having to pay her or incurring additional loss.

The difficulty and possible resistance that may be encountered if the insurance is accepted is that it would function according to the solidarity principle, meaning that everyone in the formal private sector will contribute, whether male or female.

Some ask why they would have to contribute if they are not likely to have children. "This is the case for example for religious people who have companies like priests as well as older women," Nzamwita said.

The provision may also lead to some changes in the labor law as well as the general status for the public sector for all would be required to contribute. "This would lead to the elimination of the gap between both laws when it comes to maternity leave," Nzamwita remarks.

Businessman Kabera says he would have no trouble contributing to the insurance, even if he did not have any female employees to benefit from it. "It makes sense that I would pay for that if it's the law, but I would not regret that I don't have employees who will make a claim from the insurance," he says.

For Nzabamwita, it is clear that employers who have female workers will be benefiting more if the maternity insurance is accepted. "The money will come back to them when their employee requires maternity leave," he said, pointing out that those who don't would just be paying their contribution.

Uwingeneye, even though she admits that having that maternity insurance would be good for women like her who work in the private sector, still has some misgivings - she doubts that employers would really accept that, leave alone pay for it. "There are already benefits that we are supposed to get, like medical insurance and contribution to the social security fund which we don't get," she observes.

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