Plans by the Nigerian government to extend maternity leave from the current four months to six months has been a divisive subject among Nigerians.
According to health minister, Prof Isaac Adewole, the step was necessary to promote exclusive breast feeding among working mothers.
The minister revealed this on the occasion of the 2018 World Breastfeeding Week and High Level Policy Dialogue on Breastfeeding in Abuja.
“It is the duty of the government to promote, protect and support breast-feeding as part of their obligations to citizen under the UN convention on the Right of Child to help ensure Children’s right to health,” Adewole said.
The idea of a 6-month long maternity leave for nursing mothers in Nigeria was the original idea of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). In May 2018, NLC’s Head of the Women and Youth Department, Comrade Rita Goyit, told Vanguard that increasing the duration of the maternity leave would enable nursing mothers to breastfeed their newborn babies exclusively for six months.
Goyit added that efforts should be made to create baby-friendly environments through the provision of crèches and childcare facilities at work places to enable mothers effectively care for the children.
“We have a policy of six months breastfeeding in Nigeria, but maternity leave is three months. After three months, the women resume work. What of the other three months that she has to feed her child? Every organisation where there are women should provide crèches for them,” she said.
“Exclusive breastfeeding is very important to the child. The child that is well breastfed would be healthy. The child will have high Intelligence Quotient, IQ; the child will be very intelligent. When you breastfeed babies for six months, they will grow up very healthy and a healthy child makes a healthy nation.
It is very important to breastfeed babies exclusively. They don’t get sick easily. If a child is not properly breastfed, the child would be prone to illnesses,” she added.
Women and the labour market
Lagos-based female broadcaster, Folaranmi Folayan, slammed the federal government for considering the idea which it said would be unproductive for the establishment.
“Half of one year to be on leave? That is not very productive,” Folayan stated on Twitter.
Other women who also opposed the proposed maternity leave plan noted that it might make employers to prefer to employ more male employees than females.
Describing the dangers of extended maternity leave, Ivona Hideg, assistant professor of Organization Behaviour and Human Resource Management at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, noted that since women are the ones that are usually on parental leave, it puts them at a disadvantage in two ways.
She said: “First, the longer a new mother is away from paid work, the less likely they are to advance through promotion or pay raises once they return − and more likely to be fired or downsized. My own research, for example, reveals that women who take the standard 12-month maternity leave, when compared with women who take much shorter leaves, are less likely to advance to management positions and are perceived to be less committed to their jobs. Given a severe under-representation of women in top management positions, this is troubling. While some women may welcome the extra time at home, they are overlooking the long-term effects this can have on their careers.
“Second, the possibility female employees may choose the full 18 months will exacerbate existing prejudices and stereotypes among some employers. Female job applicants of child-bearing age will soon be considered to pose an even greater risk of leaving for a lengthy period of time, when compared with their male counterparts. (And to be honest, there is some validity to this burden − especially for small employers who must hire replacement workers and pay benefits for the year-and-a-half.).”
Nigerian government’s stand on leave
If the Nigerian government goes ahead to implement this policy, it would be the second time in 3 months that it will be extending maternity leave in the country.
In June 2018, the country’s Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, announced the increment of maternity leave in Nigeria from 3 months to 4 months. He made the announcement at the International Labour Conference (ILC), in Geneva, Switzerland.
In addition to the extension, the minister also told delegates that employers of labour in the public and private sectors in the country have been barred from sacking women from work either due to their marital or maternity status.
With plans to further extend maternity leave in the country, small business owners have expressed concerns over the policy’s potential negative impacts on their operations.
“What are the provisions in place to help employers during the time off work? Government sure knows how to make life difficult for small business,” entrepreneur Femi Akanmu said.
Another small business owner slammed the Nigerian government for preferring to increase maternity leave instead of minimum wage.
“They are increasing maternity leave instead of increasing minimum wage…instead of reducing oil price, instead of creating job opportunities, think of single mothers, women who don’t have the support of any man. The government should do the right things and stop dishing out stupid rules that might not even be implemented and start implementing rules that truly affect the lives of citizens,” said Busola, a Nigerian female accountant, on Instagram.
Another Nigerian working female, Maria Ajiserere, accused the Nigerian government of introducing policies that will make Nigerian women to unemployable.
She said: “These people just want to make Nigerian women unemployable in the private sector. It’s not they are creating jobs in their public sector. 6 months maternity leave, 1 month annual leave, 12 days sick leave plus additional excuses not to show up at work. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Science favors longer maternity leave
Longer paid maternity and paternity leave offers parents the chance to spend more time with their babies – but the educational benefits for the child vary greatly, depending on their background and the parents’ qualifications, according to new research.
The research found that the children of highly educated, middle-class parents gained “large and significantly positive effects” in later exam results if their parents took longer periods of paid leave after they were born.
The effect was particularly significant for boys, according to academics from Warwick and Munich universities. Their research provides the first concrete results on how parental leave can affect children’s cognitive development in a positive way.