In addition to providing women with a 12-week maternity leave period to nurture their newborns and recover after delivery, the Ghana Labour Law (Labour Act 2003, Act651), specifically Article 57, Clause 3, also addresses scenarios where women undergo Caesarian Section (CS) or give birth to multiple babies. It stipulates that, “Maternity leave can be extended by a minimum of two extra weeks in cases of abnormal confinement or when two or more babies are born during the same confinement.” However, the law remains silent on the situation of women who unfortunately lose their babies during pregnancy or delivery.
ABORTION AND IUFD
Pregnancy loss can occur in two primary forms: miscarriage or stillbirth. In Ghana, pregnancies lost before 28 weeks are classified as spontaneous abortions, while losses after 28 weeks are termed Intrauterine Fetal Demise or IUFD for short. The loss of pregnancy or babies can profoundly impact expecting mothers, both emotionally and physically. The journey of pregnancy is filled with hope and anticipation, thus, experiencing a miscarriage or stillbirth can lead to a complex mix of emotions including grief, guilt, and even a sense of identity loss. The physical and psychological pressure of such losses can be great, since the body and mind have gone through significant changes in preparation for childbirth. Recognizing and addressing the emotional and physical aspects of these losses is crucial for supporting the well-being of women during such challenging times.
The absence of specific provisions in the Ghana Labour Law to address or offer support for women grappling with the loss of pregnancy or babies is a big challenge. This underscores the pressing need to initiate conversations and consider potential reforms that extend compassionate support to women during their times of vulnerability.
Amid the heart-wrenching scenario of a woman giving birth and subsequently losing her baby, there have been concerns about her entitlement to maternity leave days. This issue has sparked debates that delve into the fundamental purpose of maternity leaves, questioning whether they are tied exclusively to the presence of a baby and not necessarily to the mother. While some argue that the absence of a living baby negates the need for the statutory maternity leave, others assert that the act of childbirth alone warrants the full duration of maternity leave for mourning and healing, regardless of the baby’s survival duration.
While women who undergo IUFD usually receive a certain level of empathy, the same consideration is often lacking for those who experience spontaneous abortion. This is influenced by the general belief that by 28 weeks, the fetus has not fully developed. Unlike cases of IUFD, spontaneous abortions typically require minimal or no surgical intervention, leading to an expectation that these women can resume work without significant stress.
Further deliberations extend to whether the discretion lies with institutions or hospitals in determining such leaves. In most cases, the onus lies on the medical practitioner to carefully examine the mother and provide her with an excuse duty. Without this, the woman would have to resume work. Some institutions try to support by making room for compassionate leaves, often lasting for about two weeks, to accommodate such circumstances.
In Canada, labor laws fall under shared jurisdiction. Federally regulated employees are subject to federal labor laws, while each province has its own labor standards. In the province of Alberta, if pregnancy loss occurs within 16 weeks of the estimated due date, the woman is still entitled to maternity leave.
Additionally, employees can request for an extra 3 days of bereavement leave per calendar year if needed. In January 2023, the Maternity leave – IPG-017 was revised in Canada to clarify who is entitled to maternity leave. It states that, “There is a need to clarify that female employees are entitled to 17 weeks of leave under section 206 if they are: undergoing a miscarriage, undergoing abortion, or delivering a stillborn child.” (https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/laws-regulations/labour/interpretations-policies/maternity-leave.html). The Province of Ottawa is even considering amendments to the Canada Labour Code to enhance eligibility for leave-related to the death or disappearance of a child for workers.
In the United Kingdom, certain provisions exist for women who go through stillbirths, but similar considerations are not typically extended to those who experience miscarriages. A woman who loses a baby after 24 weeks of pregnancy is considered a stillbirth, and may be entitled to maternity leave and pay. This is because, in the UK, a stillbirth is legally considered a birth. Generally, the UK labour law does not mandate any maternity leave or pay for women who miscarry, that is, before the 24th week of pregnancy. Employees may, however, be entitled to compassionate or sick leave if they need time off due to physical or emotional health issues related to the miscarriage.
Yaa, an Office Assistant, lost her baby at 6 months. She indicated that she felt somewhat uneasy as her colleagues looked upon her with a sense of sympathy. The emotions she felt were complex, and the empathy from her colleagues, though well-intentioned, served as a constant reminder of her loss. Acknowledging and addressing the emotional and not only the physical dimensions of these experiences can go a long way in ensuring a compassionate workplace for all women, empowering them to navigate through these difficult times with comfort and support.
This opens up a significant conversation surrounding the need for greater understanding, empathy, and supportive work environments for women in such circumstances. Yaa’s story serves as a poignant reminder that, behind every employee’s professional façade, lies a world of emotions and personal experiences. Some medical practitioners fail to inquire about the mental health of these women and as a result, neglect the need to recommend them to psychologists for assistance.
In an encouraging development, certain institutions have proactively introduced psychological support services for all Staff and by extension, women who experience miscarriage or stillbirth get to benefit from it. Bank of Africa for example has taken significant steps by offering access to a clinical psychologist for its staff, without the need to notify HR in advance. This initiative ensures that employees have a confidential avenue to seek the essential psychological assistance they may require during distressing times.
SUPPORT FROM FATHERS
In recent years, we have witnessed a remarkable transformation in the realm of fatherhood, where men have taken on more active roles in parenting and household responsibilities. This positive shift highlights the pressing need to formalize paternity leave as a fundamental component of our labour laws. While some forward-thinking institutions have already embraced paternity leave policies, it is imperative that we integrate this provision into our labour laws, making it a mandatory practice. The introduction of paternity leave is not merely a matter of empowering men to support their wives during the crucial postpartum period; it is a step toward encouraging a more equitable distribution of parenting responsibilities and promoting healthier family dynamics and relationships. It’s high time we recognized that fathers play an indispensable role in nurturing and bonding with their newborns, and it’s our responsibility to empower them to be not just present, but fully engaged, during this critical phase of family life.
Organizations could explore the implementation of a hybrid work system, providing women with the flexibility to work conveniently from home. Women, on their part, should ensure efficiency in their work roles and avoid any potential exploitation of these situations.
In recent times, there have been discussions surrounding the need to extend maternity leave to six (6) months. It is crucial to incorporate various dynamics related to women and childbirth and conversations about paternity leave into this discourse. To address these issues effectively, it is imperative for key stakeholders such as the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations, The National Labour Commission, the Ghana Medical Association, and other relevant stakeholders to collaborate on amending the Ghana Labour law. This amendment would render these considerations legally binding rather than subjecting them to the discretion of individual institutions.