Should women be entitled to maternity leave after pregnancy loss?

In order to protect the rights of women employees during pregnancy and after childbirth, the Rwandan labour law makes it mandatory for establishments to offer maternity benefits to expecting employees.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for expectant mothers who suffer pregnancy loss, as the law in Rwanda does not stipulate maternity leave entitlement in case a woman loses a child before, during or soon after birth.

They are, however, entitled to sick leave that is treated as a pregnancy-related sickness.

Fanfan Rwanyindo, Minister of Public Service and Labour, explained that miscarriage or stillbirth within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, is not considered to be “childbirth” which is why legally, an employee does not qualify for maternity leave. 

“The employee is, however, is entitled to reasonable leave, based on professional medical advice to enable her enough time to heal,” she says.

While the leave duration is determined by the labour law, Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) is mandated to manage and implement the maternity leave benefits scheme, where all working mothers who deliver babies are allowed a fully paid three-month maternity leave.

Moses Kazoora, the Director of Communications at RSSB, explained that on basis of the Maternity Leave Benefits Law, the board is responsible for the payment of the last six weeks of leave whereas the employer caters for the first six weeks.

“However, in the case that an employee suffers a miscarriage, she is entitled to four weeks, it’s obvious that the four weeks are covered by the employer because they are included in the first six weeks,” he said.

International Labour Organisation’s Maternity/ Paternity leave and Parental Leave bill stipulates that parents have a joint right to maternity or paternity leave of up to three months in the event of stillbirth after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

In the event of a miscarriage after 18 weeks of pregnancy, the parents have a joint right to maternity/paternity leave of up to two months.

Already, countries like Vietnam, Panama, Nicaragua, Columbia and Mauritius grant paid leave in accordance with the woman’s needs when she suffers a miscarriage.

Kazoora argues that the ILO Conventions, work in line with the economy, policies and laws of the respective governments of which Rwanda is doing well in terms of Social Security and Health protection.

According to Dr Mohamed Okasha, an obstetrician gynaecologist at Legacy Clinics, Kigali, a mother who loses her child between 20 weeks and 27 weeks, usually needs six weeks to recover, and a full maternity leave period of 12 weeks, if the pregnancy was beyond 27 weeks “because it’s more like a whole delivery process which could pose substantial health risks for the mother and may sometimes require a C-Section.”

“Usually mothers who suffer miscarriages are given just two weeks of sick leave which is very little time to heal yet the loss of a baby comes with the psychological trauma of coming to terms with such a difficult situation, a state in which such an individual would be unfit to work,” he said.

He, therefore, recommends the labour law ought to consider giving mothers at a loss, paid maternity leave to help mothers fully recover, without rushing to get back to work.

Gender activist, Olive Uwamariya, also called on Rwandan policymakers to consider pushing for a law that grants the same maternity leave package to employees who suffer pregnancy loss to prepare them both physically and mentally for work.

“Expectant parents do not anticipate birth and death to collide. When a mother miscarriages, she needs some time to heal but one can never know when the right time is to heal emotionally both for the mother and father and if they are not given enough time it can affect their mental state but also their work productivity, she said.

In the meantime, MPs are advocating for the extension of maternity leave for mothers who have multiple births after the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Affairs last year began scrutinising the new draft law establishing the general statute governing public servants.

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