Maternity Protection, Parental Leave, Childcare, Working Time

  1. Unpaid maternity leave: the harsh reality for many working women

    Interview with Marie Holmes, high-school teacher in New York, mother of two.

Motherhood and the gendered division of labour place primary responsibility for maintaining the home and caring for the family on women. Unpaid care services include the reproductive functions of pregnancy and breastfeeding, providing care for infants and children (active and passive), the permanently ill or temporarily sick, as well as for dependent older relatives and the disabled; household maintenance, cleaning, washing, cooking, shopping; and all volunteer work for community services.

Lack of maternity protection and the extent and unequal share of responsibility for care is an important determinant of gender-based inequalities between the sexes and of inequalities among women. Conflict between family care responsibilities and the demands of work contributes significantly to women’s disadvantage in the labour market and the sluggish progress towards equal opportunity and treatment for men and women in employment. Often unpaid care responsibilities impede women to prepare, enter, remain and progress in the work force entirely.

While women are forced, or choose, to accept poorly-paid, insecure, part-time, home-based or informal work in order to combine their care responsibilities with their paid employment, difficulties in reconciling the demands of work and family care contribute to men’s disadvantage in the family and limit their ability to be involved in family matters and support their dependants’ right to be cared for.

Solutions discussed in ILO resources include:
  • Maternity protection measures, such as paid maternity leave, maternal  and child health care, health protection at the workplace for pregnant and nursing workers, employment protection and non-discrimination; and adequate facilities for breastfeeding and childcare; 
  • Sharing the care between men and women through paid paternity leave and parental leave after the initial maternity leave;
  • Flexible working arrangements for both women and men, decent working time for all, good-quality part-time work and other family-friendly working conditions;
  • Affordable and good quality childcare and other family services and facilities;
  • Social security benefits, such as family and child allowances, and tax relief measures, to guarantee income security for the adequate care of children and other dependants and ensure their rights;
  • Labour force integration measures, including adequate vocational training facilities counselling, employment guarantee schemes and public works, information and placement services to support workers with family responsibilities to become and remain integrated or to re-enter in the labour force, after an absence due to caregiving
  • Lightening the burden of family and household responsibilities through labour-saving devices, public transport, supply of water and energy.