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Nigerian women, maternity leave and loss of jobs

Africa needs to address inequalities linked with sustainable childcare and career progression among young moms
di Weyinmi Orighoye
Tempo di lettura 6 min lettura
27 novembre 2022 Aggiornato alle 20:00

A friend asked I help her promote an event held by a circle of professional women using my WhatsApp and other social media platforms. The conversation was about getting back to work after a career break as a mom. I shared the poster and I got a few responses about the topic and one in particular stood out for me.

“It is exciting, but after my first day, I felt like going back to maternity leave. I gave birth the last week of the school’s exams. Two days after by caesarean section, the owner of the school called me and asked me to mark my papers so they could start making the students’ results. Fast forward to when school resumed (they did not pay for maternity leave), my baby was 6 weeks old, I was tired of staying at home, and school had resumed 3 weeks before then. They called to know if I would resume, I said yes, but I do not know when. That is how I resumed and noticed my subject had not been touched for about 3 weeks. I was given 230 minutes to teach every school week except thursdays (where I work at the health facility), covering junior secondary one to senior secondary one. I had to feed my little girl in-between since we did exclusive breastfeeding. After a month, I felt like resigning but I did not have the courage to do so. I managed when I was in class, if the baby cried; I stopped to feed her, held her close or gave her to a teacher that was less busy. Until she was 3 months old (she was a little strong for the learners to carry her), you know kids like to play, so when the SS1 students were not having any lesson, they would play with her. They practically taught her how to sit down. Now she’s about 6/7 months old and has started eating gradually, she stays at the day care, she is not used to the day care yet, but I am relieved a little and my 230 minutes of teaching every week is still on.” (school teacher, first-time mom, recent STEM graduate, in her 20’s)

My only response was a question, how much are you paid for your teaching job? She replied 25,000 Naira per month (as at the time this article was written, this amount equals to £26.48 or to $29.81 per month). It is not unusual for entry-level teachers in Nigeria to earn such an amount each month. Her story about maternity pay and childcare is also very common in Nigeria. Do we get angry about it? Yes! Are people doing something about it? Yes, but it is slow progress and it depends on where you live, what you do and who you work for in Nigeria.

A mother’s wellbeing is crucial to ensuring healthy outcomes, and quality maternity leave is an essential part of maternal health. In Nigeria, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the 2008 Public Service Rules, and the 2004 Nigeria Labour Law all recognize and ascent to the provision of maternity entitlements. Nigeria implements 2 maternity entitlement provisions. The first, which is recognised at all levels of public service and by the Nigerian Labour Act, provides up to 12 weeks of maternity leave with at least 50% salary, and, upon return to work, half an hour twice a day during working hours to breastfeed. For the young teacher who has shared her story with me, this maternity entitlement has not been recognised.

The second provision recently adopted by the Federal Public Service and yet to be ratified down to all the Nigerian states and local government civil service, is a 16-week maternity

leave provision with full pay, as well as 2 hours off each day to breastfeed up to 6 months after the employee resumes duty. With a few articles published on maternity entitlements, not a lot of women know about this recent provision and if they did, I wonder if it would make a difference.

States like Lagos and Enugu are said to provide 10 working days and 3 weeks respectively of paternity leave to new fathers. In addition to these domestic policies, the Government of Nigeria has also signed on to the International Labour Organization Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183), and its accompanying Recommendation (No. 191). The Nigerian government has enacted national legislation, in agreement to the provisions of international conventions and agreements, but not much has changed in practice as significant gaps remain. These gaps include a lack of clarity on whether public and private organisations face penalties if they deny women their maternity rights; what compensation women can claim when that right is denied; and inequalities under the law faced by those in the informal sector.

There are recommendations focused on improving the knowledge, attitudes, perceptions, and practices regarding parental support within the Nigerian labour force, policy implementation, enforcement, and regulation of labour laws in the public and private sectors, and awareness among the general public of the benefits to families of parental leave and exclusive breastfeeding.

However, a question that lingers is how best can this be applied to those who are marginalised by other wider social determinants? While some young mothers might return to their jobs with or without pay and increased workloads, there are other mothers who do not have the opportunity to return back to work due to other factors such as losing or resigning the pre-pregnancy job, childcare expenses and obstacles in the job market. I will share a story that might cover a few of these factors.

Chidi (not her real name), 27, worked as a product manager for a health start-up which was stressful due to logistics but paid the bills before she had her first baby. She hoped she could find another job that met her needs especially childcare after delivery. After a few months of job hunting, she got an offer that was favourable. She signed the contract, shared the news with family and friends. She did not have to worry about childcare as the organisation said they were supportive. An email was sent to Chidi regarding on boarding, which required spending three days at an all paid hotel by the organisation. It stated that she could not bring her baby along as it would disrupt the on boarding process. She pleaded for alternative ways, where she could participate in the on boarding but return home at the end of the day since the venue was not far from her home. The management refused and her job offer was retracted. She continued applying for jobs, got a few offers without provision for childcare, so she resorted to work in the informal sector to make ends meet.

A few studies have reported that women who work in the informal sector, particularly those with their own businesses, may be able to adjust their working conditions to suit their baby and family needs such as, taking their baby to work, working shorter or flexible hours or working from home especially in recent times due to the pandemic. However, this comes at a cost for women who wish to pursue careers in more advanced fields of their choices- medicine, education, engineering, etc.

It is not enough to say the government and the organisations should implement these policies; it is also not good to only suggest the idea of moving to countries with better economies or policies, not every african woman is able to japa (meaning- migrate out of Nigeria) to another country for a better life because it is somewhat harder for african women living abroad. So how can we address the inequalities linked with maternity policies, sustainable childcare and career progression among young african women globally?

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