Many educated women today will scowl at the idea that “a woman’s place or office is the kitchen”.
In fact there has been vigorous campaigns that aims at erasing that notion to replace it with “what a man can do a woman can do even better”.
The world’s attention is drawn to equality for the male and female child and in fact many support the need for an affirmative action in favour of women’s development since gender activists believe that women are disadvantaged in many areas.
However, biologically men and women are different; women menstruate, give birth, breastfeed and are naturally skewed towards taking care of children emotionally.
These biological roles tend to limit women in one way or the other, hence the need for an affirmative action.
An affirmative action can be referred to as positive discrimination and means a policy or a law that favours a section of the population.
In Ghana one thing that limits women in terms of progress in their career is childbirth. When a woman gives birth, she needs rest; and she needs to breastfeed the child exclusively for six months.
Perhaps that is why the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) is advocating a six- month maternity leave for women.
The GMA in November last year called for the review of labour laws to grant mothers six months maternity leave and a mandatory establishment of nurseries in all public and private institutions.
The association said exclusive breastfeeding among working nursing mothers must be encouraged and health facilities in the country should be baby friendly.
These views were expressed by the GMA in a communiqué signed by its President Dr Kwabena Opoku-Adusei and General Secretary Dr Frank Serebour at the end of the 54th annual general conference of the Association held in Cape Coast.
The communiqué noted that the proven benefits of six months of exclusive breastfeeding to new-borns calls for an increase in the current three months maternity leave to six months.
The GMA said it is relevant to ask expectant mothers to start their maternity leave six weeks prior to delivery.
Most institutions in Ghana now give three months maternity leave, after which mothers apply for their annual leave and that push them to about four-and- a –half months.
Many organisations may argue that they cannot be paying someone for a whole six months when the person is actually “not working”; and the radical approach to this assertion is that some private institutions tend to sack female workers once they start giving birth.
The argument is that at that point in the female’s life, she is not productive commercially so what money should be used to pay her?
However, the big question that we have to ask ourselves as a country is whether we are making projection into the future? The young shall grow, was an answer that a friend gave me when discussing this issue.
As a country do we see the new-borns as human resource? Would it not be better if mothers had the time to nurture their young ones, invest in their brain development, which will eventually ensure a good human resource development for the country?
A politician once remarked that a good source of investment for any country is to invest in her human resource development, because at the end of the day, no matter the level of the economy, no matter the infrastructure, it is the human beings that make a nation.
The GMA also advocated a mandatory establishment of nurseries at work places to allow nursing mothers to breastfeed infants during breaks. It sounds like a dream, breastfeeding breaks?
One may argue that there are day-care centres springing up all over the place and these days such facilities even admit three-month old children. That is true but there are also horrifying stories associated with the development.
A couple shared their experience of how before they sent little Akua to school, she was active, cries a lot, feeds well and was a really happy baby and how little Akua changed to be dull, does not feed well and was sick almost all the time.
According to the couple, they found out that Akua was given a sedative at the day-care centre every day to keep her calm, horrifying indeed!
Some even share stories of house-helps who give their children alcohol to put them to sleep so that “they can be free”, oh where is our conscience as a nation? What have these little ones done to deserve such maltreatment? Are we thinking of human resource development? Indeed the young shall grow.
The GMA said given the current under five mortality rate of 80 deaths per 1000 live births and the country’s target of 40 deaths per 1000 lives by 2015 it is imperative for all stakeholders, policy makers, managers, development partners and health professionals to rededicate themselves to improve care for children under five.
The association said the improved care must span the entire continuum of care from conception through delivery and post period to the fifth year of life.
Where are the women activists? Where are the female parliamentarians? Is Nana Oye Lithur, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection watching? What about our dear first lady, Mrs Lordina Mahama? Can’t we have laws that ensure that women have at least six months maternity leave and also see to the establishment of nurseries in all work places?
Are women our own enemies? Because sometimes it is the female bosses who say that I went through the same bitter experience and so my fellow female must also do same.
Yesi Jones, a Ghanaian living in Canada said: “In Canada, no one will admit a six months old baby to school,” she said mothers are given a whole year of maternity leave with pay.
She explained that in Canada, the safety, health and security of a baby is key, and no one will dare want to give a female employee only six months of maternity leave, it will be criminal, she stressed.
In Ghana 40 per cent of under five deaths and 60 per cent of infant deaths happens in the neonatal age group and the GMA is saying that it is important for stakeholders to pay attention to new-borns that are dying primarily from neonatal sepsis, prematurity and asphyxia
The Medical Association therefore advised doctors to take a proactive leadership role whether as clinicians or as public health physicians to improve under five care and to generate innovative and cost effective change ideas.
Giving our babies a good start in life, goes a long way to affect their personality in adulthood.
Perhaps we have to conclude that granting a reasonable maternity leave to mothers and human resource development are two sides of the same coin.
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