Oxfam Launches Maternity Protection Campaign on International Labour Day

To commemorate this year’s 135th anniversary of Labour Day, Oxfam and partners in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are launching a two-month digital campaign, “Every Mother Counts,” to raise awareness on the challenges faced by women workers in accessing maternity protection benefits.. Approximately 90% of women in the labour force in Cambodia cannot access any maternity protection benefits due to their informal status. Through this campaign, Oxfam and partners aim to engage the public, employers and businesses, national policymakers and ASEAN bodies in discussion about how to ensure that all women workers in Cambodia, especially those in informal sector, can access maternity protection.

Ms. Solinn Lim, Cambodia Country Director of Oxfam says: “Maternity protection is a fundamental labour and constitutional right, and is essential for achieving gender equality, the well-being and health of mothers and children, and equal opportunities and treatment in the labour force.”

According to a 2020 World Bank report, women in their main reproductive years (ages 25-34) are more likely to be overrepresented among the poor. In Cambodia, this is because women spend 3.5 more hours on average than men performing unpaid care and domestic work, even during pregnancy and maternity and a devastating COVID-19 pandemic. This means less time to work and earn an income, less ability to save and contribute to social security, and greater vulnerablity to chronic poverty and illness for them and their children. As such, we must ensure that the law protects all women workers, partly through the formalization of all work, and by providing comprehensive protections and benefits during pregnancy and maternity.

The prime reproductive years of women between the ages of 24 and 35 coincide with the time when they have the highest potential for career development and income generation. However, due to the demands of pregnancy and maternity, they are left with no choice but to stop working because they do not have access to maternity protection benefits. Photo: Oxfam

According to a soon-to-be-released Oxfam report, national legislation presents a formidable obstacle to providing better maternity protection for all women workers in Cambodia. In particular, the Labour Law of Cambodia does not yet include informal women workers in the social security system. To avail maternity protection benefits, women workers must have formalized work arrangements, and must prove that they have met the minimum eligibility requirements for contributory social insurance or social assistance schemes. Most informal women workers, however, cannot meet these requirements, as they have no formal employment arrangements, and work too irregularly to afford making regular contributions to social insurance.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, informal women workers find themselves as one of the most vulnerable segments of our society facing job and income loss, a surge in domestic violence during lockdowns, unintended pregnancies and more responsibilities for unpaid care work without access to maternity and social protections. Photo: Oxfam

Dr. Chan Narith, Secretary-General of the National Social Protection Council (NSPC), says: “The NSPC strongly acknowledges the importance of maternity protection in addressing gender inequality and in mitigating women’s and household’s vulnerability. Maternity protection, especially for poor and vulnerable households, that are currently active within the RGC’s social protection agenda includes the “Cash-Transfer Program for Pregnant Women and Young Children”. The NSPC is working to further strengthen the coordination and harmonization of policies and regulations to ensure that all women in the formal and informal sectors are supported. We recognize the important roles of all stakeholders, including civil society, and will continue the collaboration to make sure that all mothers count and benefit from social protection programs; and allows women the space to continue to contribute to the development of Cambodia.

Maternity Protection ILO Convention No. 183 is an important agreement that recognizes the right of all working mothers to five core elements of maternity protection: Maternity leave; cash and medical benefits; health protection at the workplace; employment protection and non-discrimination; and breastfeeding arrangements. Photo: Oxfam

H.E. The Chhun Hak, Director General, Gender Equality and Economic Development at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) said: “Maternity protection is a human value and a fundamental part of gender equality and the care economy. In Cambodia, female labor force participation is steadily growing and the need for maternity protection becomes increasingly critical for everyone’s care.  MoWA, through the Neary Rattanak V strategic plan 2019-2023, commits to bring attention and accountability to this important agenda. We continue working with stakeholders, CSOs and the private sector to translate our core value into actions, transforming policies to be more inclusive and creating an environment where women fully exercise their rights and choices.”

Due to existing gender stereotypes, when women workers become pregnant they are still expected to perform Unpaid Care and Domestic Work, even though these household care duties take away their income generation opportunities. At work, women workers find themselves discriminated against by employers and businesses who view them negatively due to increased responsibilities on businesses to offer maternity and social protections to them. Photo: Oxfam

Given the challenges of pregnancy and maternity, especially for informal women workers, Oxfam calls on the Cambodian government to consider better aligning laws and policies with ILO Maternity Protection Convention No. 183 (2000), which establishes benchmarks in five core areas: maternity leave; cash and medical benefits; health protection at the workplace for mothers and their children during pregnancy, and during breastfeeding; employment protection and non-discrimination; and breastfeeding arrangements.

The campaign is part of Oxfam’s social protection program supported by the Belgium Ministry of Foreign Affairs which aims to promote decent work in ASEAN and advocate for the recognition of social protection as an investment to reduce inequality, vulnerability and poverty. Maternity protection is an essential part of comprehensive social protection measures.

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