Socio-economic news and views by LISER researchers*

14 Jan 20 | Opinion

Celebrating 100 years of Maternity Protection

LISER researchers Marie Valentova and Merve Uzunalioglu share their recent experiences and views on reaching this milestone

It has been a good one-hundred years since, the first gender equality international standard, Maternity Protection Convention had been adopted at the first International Labour Conference. As November 2019 marked the centenary of the maternity protection convention, International Labour Organization (ILO) together with European Commission (EC) and International Network on Leave Policies and Research (Leave Network) organised a conference at the ILO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on the 8th of November.

LISER researchers, Dr Marie Valentova, Luxembourg representative of the Leave Network, and Merve Uzunalioglu, Jr Affiliate to the Leave Network were invited to participate in this remarkable day.

Maternity protection to health and income security around the childbirth

Maternity protection is a health and welfare benefit for new mothers which is due to be used around the time of the delivery. While being critical for health and income security around birth, it is also a key gender equality measure. Since its introduction in 1919, it went through several revisions in 1952 (Convention No. 103) and 2000 (Convention No. 183). Along with changing needs of the societies and labour market conditions, other leave related policies, i.e. paternity and parental leave, came to life to enable a more balanced division of labour both at home and at the workplace. 

Despite the acknowledgement of the benefits of these leaves, these rights are still not enjoyed universally. Only 41 per cent of women with new-born babies have access to maternity cash benefits. Moreover, only 72 of ILO’s 187 member states ratified one of the maternity conventions, and in 2013, only one-third of the member states have met the requirements in Convention No. 183.

Advantages are recognised globally, yet progress is slow, and challenges remain

Over the last decades, there seems to be a global convergence towards policies targeting gender equality. Representatives from the governments of Spain, Chile, and Zambia, shared their experiences and recent development indicating their strong determination towards women’s self-agency and enabling them to meet their full potential. 

While the progress is steadily in the making, policies are still lagging to keep up with the contemporary labour market and changing family conditions. The rise of precarious work environments, so-called platform economy and non-standard contracts and absence of fathers’ involvement in care provision challenge achieving gender equality. The importance of paternal involvement is widely studied and backed up with evidence; yet, care provision still heavily relies on mothers. In her opening remarks, the co-coordinator of the Leave Network, Prof Margaret O’Brien emphasised why fathers’ involvement is essential to reduce the gender gap and realise children’s rights to parental care time. However, change takes time exemplified Prof Marian Baird, a global gender influencer from the University of Sydney. She stated that it took about 30 years of lobbying and campaigning in Australia to introduce paid maternity leave. Information campaigns and awareness-raising played a crucial role in transforming the normative understanding of maternity and parental leave in Australia.

In a similar token, trade unions, labour congresses and employers appear to be important actors towards gender equity in the labour market with providing safety, fairness and economic justice. Finally yet importantly, as Emeritus Professor of Early Childhood Provision, Peter Moss, also co-founder of the Leave Network, stated we have to start rethinking about conceptualising leave policies. Inclusive policies recognising diversity in family relationships and alignment with other policies are needed for these policies to serve their initial purpose.

About the Network

With over 60 members representing 45 countries, the International Network on Leave Policies and Research is bringing together international expertise on leave policies and related research. Each year, the Network produces an annual report, which acts as a policy-monitoring tool where experts provide individual country reports about maternity, paternity, and parental leave. The complete version of 2019 Annual Review is available online at this link, and the Luxembourg country note can be found here.

About the researchers

Dr Marie Valentova is a quantitative sociologist with expertise on migration and leave policies. She is a research fellow at LISER currently leading an FNR-funded CORE project and a project funded by the Ministry of Family, Integration and the Greater Region, both dealing with the evaluation of parental leave policies.

Merve Uzunalioglu is a PhD Candidate at University College London and LISER. Her project “Fathers and parental leave in Luxembourg: the interplay between workplace characteristics and fathers’ behaviour” is funded by FNR with project code 12540500. 

* LISER Opinion posts reflect the personal views of their authors and do not necessarily express the position of LISER