Friday, December 4, 2020

BOTSWANA TRAPPED IN THE DARK AGE OF THE FIFTH TRIMESTER

Long after the pregnancy glow has faded, the baby shower gifts have been unwrapped and the maternity leave is over, thousands of Botswana’s new working moms find themselves flying blind into their fifth trimester.

The fifth trimester is that time when new mothers go back to work after maternity leave and try to settle in again behind their desks. The fifth trimester is such a big deal that it has spawned a global movement to help parents and businesses revolutionize workplace culture together. This followed the success of Lauren Smith Brody’s new book “The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Success, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby.”

Botswana however is still on the leeward of the blowing winds of change that are revolutionising the international workplace culture to make it parent friendly – and local working moms are always left holding the baby.

Kgalalelo Mafa from the Ministry of Labour & Home Affairs under Gender Affairs Department told Sunday Standard that, “female employees are generally entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave, 6 weeks to be taken before the birth and 6 after. The employee must present a doctor’s certificate. Employees are eligible to receive at least 50% of their basic pay. It is vital to note that the entitlement to and benefits that flow from maternity leave and allowance are applicable to every female employee. That means that citizenship or nationality is not a factor. You simply have to be female and be a lawful employee. It does not matter whether you are a citizen or whether you are working by virtue of a work permit so long as you are working lawfully you are entitled to benefit. If an employer seeks to terminate a pregnant female employee’s employment without good cause (i.e. without a proper lawful and good substantive reason) within a period of three months immediately before the delivery of her child that employer shall still be obligated to pay the employee the full benefits she is entitled to in respect of maternity pay. No employer is permitted to give a female employee who is on lawful maternity leave notice of termination of her employment during the period of her maternity leave. If an employer contravenes this provision then that employer would be liable to either a fine not exceeding P1, 500.00.”

The law however still falls far short of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) maternity protection conversion of 2000 and forces women to bear the entire burden of juggling the responsibility between working and parenting.

Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West, Dithapelo Koorapetse recently told Parliament to improve the country’s maternity protection regime to ease the burden off working mothers.

Contributing to the debate on 2019/2020 budget proposals on Industrial Court, Keorapetse stated that there should be legal obligation that entitled fathers to take a short period of leave following the birth of a child to provide help and support to the mother.

Keorapetse said government should recognise the importance of dual parenting from early childhood in an effort to support family responsibilities even in the workplace. He said it was disturbing that the ‘country does not have the paternity leave provision despite the country’s position in line with International Labour Organisation (ILO).’

He also pleaded with government to extend the maternity leave to 14 weeks and also remunerate mothers’ on maternity leave full salary as per the ILO maternity protection conversion of 2000.

He added that men were willing to support their spouses during pregnancy and early child care but the unavailability of the paternity leave provision was making it impossible for them.

While a growing number of countries are experimenting with Womenomics, a concept that seeks to boost domestic product and female representation and focuses on increasing equality and reducing pay disparity, the Botswana workplace is still fraught with inequality and uncertainty for working mothers.

Thabiso Gulubane a lawyer at Khumotse Law Practice told the Sunday Standard how in spite of a raft of laws promulgated to protect working moms, the dearth of a national workplace culture that support parenting is making it easier for employers to frustrate working mothers out of work. Gulubane is not just blowing smoke, as a lawyer he has to deal with cases of mothers who have been managed out of work.

“The law states that you are entitled to three months leave. During this maternity leave, you are usually paid half your salary and after the maternity leave you are given an extra break, normally known as the breastfeeding break everyday for another three months. It is illegal to fire a woman for falling pregnant while on the job. There is what we call constructive dismissal, this is where you’re not fired outright but your employer makes the environment so inhospitable that you don’t want to come back eventually forcing you to resign from work.  There have been instances where employers would complain of a woman having a baby and her work falling behind and they eventually give you notice; this is a concern for many women. Biologically speaking, as a woman, the process of bearing a child is difficult. It affects the woman physically, emotionally and professionally because you don’t have as much energy as you used to but you still have the same obligations at work. Just like the patriarchal system our professional environment is similar; it is harder for women to get ahead, to progress, and to be paid the same salaries as men who do the same work. It further reinforces the belief that women have this inherent frailty about them. Young professional woman find it terrifying to think they have to weigh the options –either progress professionally or have a child and fulfill that personal choice. It all boils down to forcing women to make a choice.”

Technically, a thirty-two year old woman might spend roughly six months thinking about getting pregnant, six months trying to get pregnant, nine months pregnant and three months on maternity leave. Add all that adds up to 18 months – a year and a half.

Women in their 30s leaning into their career but also trying to have a family will inevitably find themselves in conflict with themselves and their employers. That conflict won’t only last for just nine months but for the remaining time they plan on having kids. Many women pass up the perfect job and even delay being entrepreneurs because pregnancy was in their near or foreseeable future.

Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “From a mother’s perspective, many of us will also not risk leaving a job, going for a promotion or changing careers, simply due to the fear the new opportunity may not be as flexible as we need. It is not just a matter of lost income for mothers due to taking time out of the workforce, it is also often the need for women to pursue careers and jobs that are ‘family friendly’, and therefore frequently undervalued. In some cases, there’s the need to give up a career or job altogether because the hours were simply incompatible with kids. Then there are also the quiet assumptions and bias that face mothers in workplaces: overlooking her for a promotion because the way such a role has previously been done won’t fit her schedule; giving her lesser projects because she needs to leave at 5pm; the assumption she’s ‘parking’ her career and is OK with not being fairly assessed or given decent tasks.”

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