It is over eight months since the new law on maternity leave was published in the national gazette, effectively compelling all employers to implement maternity leave benefits scheme. The law facilitates working mothers to have access to fully paid maternity leave. But months down the road, has the maternity leave benefits scheme achieved the anticipated benefits?
It is an affirmative yes for gender activists who argue that the scheme has created stability and career development among working mothers.
Jean Bosco Murangira, the director of women economic empowerment at the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, says his evaluation of the maternity law since it was passed shows that the maternity leave benefits scheme has provided women a platform to exercise their rights in the workplace.
Murangira adds that even though research hasn’t been done yet to quantify the exact benefits of this initiative so far, the testimonies from employees and employers show that it has yielded several benefits in the first few months of operation.
“According to the testimonies we are receiving, everyone appreciates the initiative. Different organisations and women groups appreciate the move. I believe the benefits with this law are many if one compares it to the past law, though we haven’t done any research to benchmark this,” he says.
With the benefits that women get during their maternity leave, Murangira says that it’s a good indication that women enjoy their dignity.
“This law gives mothers enough time to cater for the future labour force, children are the future labour force and giving them enough care during their infant stage is very crucial,” Murangira says.
On whether some organisations have refrained from employing women as a result of this law, Murangira says he believes that any organisation that respects gender equality wouldn’t do such a thing and that even when such organisations crop up; he believes that sensitisation will help.
“At the moment, I am not aware of any organisation complaining and I think going forward the maternity leave scheme will continue giving positive results,” he says.
This view is echoed by Katherine Turinawe, the human resource manager of KCB Bank Rwanda. Turinawe applauds the new law saying that it doesn’t put women in a box, but rather, it allows them to exercise all the choices they have.
“Mothers now have those three months where, it’s just about the baby and them recovering from the whole experience of childbirth. Most working mothers will tell you that it is probably the most difficult thing for one to wear all these many hats, however, with this policy, the burden is kind of lessened for a working mother,” she says.
Turinawe points out that for KCB Bank Rwanda, nothing really changed since they had this kind of policy before the old one was revised, and with this, she urges other organisations that haven’t taken the step, to embrace the change.
Turinawe argues that any organisation that supports such a policy attracts the right employees because few people would want to work for an organisation that doesn’t support personal goals or things that one needs as an individual.
“For the organisation, it is a plus; any organisation that is supportive of allowing mothers to have this maternity leave period definitely shows that it is supportive of its employees,” Turinawe says.
However, Turinawe adds that there is a possibility that some companies refrain from employing women because of this law.
“You know the sad thing is that there are actually companies that would do that, of course they would not admit that they are doing it but the truth is it is very difficult if the playing field is not the same. It takes an organisation that is very talent-focused to not do such, however, it’s really up to the organisation to be clear on what goals they want to achieve,” Turinawe says.
She advises working mothers to show their capability and stay afloat when it comes to competitiveness on the job market.
“Motherhood is not a life sentence, it is just part of who someone is and it does not compromise their skills or their abilities. That said, it is really also upon us as working mothers to be able to juggle everything to show that we are capable, we must deliver 150 percent for us to get ahead,” she counsels.
“You really have to find your balance in a way that nobody is going to doubt your abilities. Women should understand that they can make it; many people have done it, it’s about knowing yourself and having a good support system, and this we have. There are no superwomen; most women succeed because they have a system that works,” she says.
It is work in progress
Sarah Mujawase, a businesswoman, gives credit to the government for the foresight and initiative to revise the old law which was a stumbling block for working mothers.
She says this is greatly contributing to women’s participation in the world of business and career evolvement and believes it’s the milestone that will take women to greater heights.
“As a working mother, I understand where fellow women come from; it’s hard shouldering all sorts of responsibilities and at the same time, raising a family. However, this is changing, I believe this is it for us, we are going to climb the ladder just like our male counterparts,” Mujawase says.
Christine Ashimwe, the environmental, social and governance manager at HQ Power Rwanda, says that as a career woman, the answer is crystal clear; there are very many benefits that have come with the revised law.
She points out that women in Rwanda play a very big role in the economic development of their families and the country, and that this is very important because there are many countries where women are still dreaming to attain what Rwandan women have.
That said, women have to fulfil another important God given responsibility; childbearing. This, however, should not stop them from serving in all capacities, she adds.
Ashimwe is of the view that maternity leave is one way of striking a balance between these roles.
“When you know you are getting ample time for your newborn, you will definitely work harder when you resume work. Some of the benefits include; peace of mind, financial stability during the whole period of maternity leave, and, enough rest as you nurse your baby. These are the direct ones, but the whole family, and society at large, benefits when a mother is paid her full salary during the three months of maternity leave,” she says.
The working mother also notes that with any policy, there are pros and cons and that this is no exception.
“I think employers should not look at the three months of maternity leave as the issue, but at what the woman who is seeking this leave can deliver while at work. I know some big employers look at women as a burden but this is wrong,” Ashimwe says.
She adds that given all the resources required, a woman can deliver even more than a man and that it is important that employers start looking at women as partners in society.
“Women should also be reliable and deliver to their full capacity so that when you take your three months of leave, your full salary will be paid with pleasure,” Ashimwe says.
How maternity leave scheme operates
The eligible beneficiary of this scheme is every employed woman who goes on maternity leave after having contributed to it (the scheme) for at least one month.
Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) as the custodian of the maternity leave benefits insurance will cover six weeks of the paid leave starting from the seventh week while compensations for the first six weeks are met by the employer.
Monthly contributions to the scheme total 0.6 per cent of the employee’s gross salary- with both the employer and the employee each contributing 0.3 per cent.
Contributions are made by all (male and female) employees in Rwanda and by every employer (private or public).
According to the provisions of the law, the employer declares and remits collected contribution to the Social Security Administration not later than 15th of every month following the month of contribution.
The scheme came into force after the promulgation of the law of March 30, 2016 establishing and governing maternity leave benefits scheme and the promulgation of the Ministerial Order of October 28, 2016 relating to maternity leave benefits scheme.
Under the old maternity leave law, working women would collect their full salary in the first six weeks of their maternity leave, while they had to come back to work in the second half of their leave or surrender 80 per cent of their monthly salary if they opted to stay home.
Do you think the revised maternity leave is making an impact?
The revised maternity law will benefit both the working mother and the employer. By giving a new mother enough time to breastfeed her child, you are giving her enough rest and her baby will be in good health. This means that by the time the mother returns to work, she is fully relaxed and will reduce on absenteeism at work, hence improving work efficiency.
Betty Sayinzoga, CEO of Saham Assurance Rwanda
I do believe it’s making an impact; women now have enough time for their families when it comes to raising their children. This, to a large extent, gives women peace of mind, enabling them to perform to the fullest when it comes to their careers.
Jackline Mukabalisa, Office Administrator
The revised maternity law is a big step for women. Women are no longer torn between work and taking care of their babies. This, I believe, increases their productivity which is also important to employers.
Diana Tumuhairwe, Receptionist
I applaud this important milestone taken for women as it is not just making an impact for women alone, but for society in general. When mothers prosper it means prosperity for us all.
Mustafa Sali, Businessman