A week after International Women’s Day

Last Tuesday, the 8th of March, was International Women’s Day. A day when the steps taken for a fairer world for women and girls are celebrated and the remaining challenges to achieving parity between the sexes are ruminated on. Of course the level of gender equality varies from country to country and this far, according to international media reports, women in strictly Islamic countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia are having the worst of it.

Last Tuesday, the 8th of March, was International Women’s Day. A day when the steps taken for a fairer world for women and girls are celebrated and the remaining challenges to achieving parity between the sexes are ruminated on. Of course the level of gender equality varies from country to country and this far, according to international media reports, women in strictly Islamic countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia are having the worst of it.

Naturally, as a man I am usually reluctant to write on gender issues because it’s an easy way to get tarred with the brush of sexism.

About 6 years ago I wrote a piece on how divorce laws should be relaxed. In that piece, I noted that the large number of women in Parliament was not translating into pro-women legislation.

Next thing I knew, I was being cited in a UNICEF report for all the wrong reasons. I have since given gender issues a wide berth.

So it was with a bit of surprise that a female friend, perhaps ticked off at the non-observance of Women’s Day expressed similar sentiments to the ones I had written of nearly 6 years ago. Her bone of contention was that provisions on maternity leave had regressed with the new labour law.

I took some time to compare the old labour law of 2001 and the new one of 2009 [passed in a parliament where more than half the representatives are women]. Her complaints may have been a little exaggerated but there were definitely a few unfavourable changes.

The amount of leave [12 weeks] was the same but under the new law, a woman may take this leave 2 weeks prior to the expected date of delivery whereas under the old law the woman was obligated to take her maternity leave 2 weeks prior to the expected date of delivery and six weeks after delivery. The woman would have four weeks that she could take entirely up to her discretion.

I do not know whether the new provisions are a step backwards but I do know that the one hour per day for breastfeeding is now applicable by law for 12 months after delivery where before it was 15 months.

Additionally, where before a woman was entitled to 2/3 of her salary throughout her leave, under the new law she would receive her full salary for the first six weeks of her leave and 20% of her salary for the last six weeks.

This represents a drop of nearly 7% when averaged out over the 12 weeks. It seems that my friend’s complaints are not baseless after all. A parliament dominated by women voted in a law that reduces pay during maternity leave and reduces the breastfeeding time. Who would have thought it possible?

Elsewhere in the world, forces of nature in the form of earthquakes wrecked plenty destruction and death in Japan. As I write, the survivors of the quake and subsequent tsunami face the real possibility of radioactive poisoning as a nuclear reactor exploded during the earthquake. Thousands have been evacuated from the area. Testament once again to the impotence of man before the unpredictable tectonic forces below the surface.
In Libya, the potency of one man’s folly seemed to be in the ascendency. Colonel Muammar Gaddhafi, the not-really-leader of Libya, seems to be gaining the upper hand on the pro-democracy protestors as his forces took over a string of towns over the weekend. The UN continues to speak of a no-fly zone like this would magically solve things in Libya. The Colonel seems to be reminding us that not all dictators leave office when their people cry for them too and that some will resort to extraordinary measures at a very high cost to their country and reputation to stay in power.

okabatende@gmail.com

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