The situation and circumstances surrounding maternity leave could be regarded as discriminatory against women and their babies. Child-bearing is a natural process that only women can carry through. Seemingly, Namibian female public servants have to bear punishment for natural processes.
The current three-months’ maternity leave given to mothers of newborns deters mothers from the World Health Organisation-recommended six months’ exclusive breastfeeding of infants in Namibia.
The WHO states, amongst other things, that breastfeeding an infant for six months exclusively promotes the good growth and development of an infant; reduces the risk of infections and allergies; as well as promotes good IQ in children.
From a nutrition perspective, the production of breastmilk is increased by the suckling of the baby.
The more the baby sucks, the better the production of milk. Thus, if the mother leaves the baby for long hours without breastfeeding, the milk production reduces, or even stops. In an event where breastmilk is limited, mothers resort to infant formula, which is not the best food for babies. Formula feeding, especially before six months, has been proven to increase the risk of various infections, and in some cases malnutrition, which leads to stunted growth and poor infant development.
In Namibia, the State, that is also the biggest employer, disregards those benefits, and is stagnant on three months’ unpaid maternity leave. While on maternity leave, mothers’ salaries are cut, forcing them to live on a small allowance from the Social Security Commission, which in most cases, especially for middle- level earners such as teachers, is little and barely covers the monthly expenses of the mothers and their families. Moreover, after their unpaid maternity leave, mothers are deducted the arrears GIPF and PSEMAS member contribution for the three months that they are not paid.
The situation has forced most mothers to resort to taking sick leave instead, which is only possible for those who deliver by Caesarean section, better known as C-section. The sick leave is given for six weeks. Thereafter, the still-recovering mother is forced to leave her one-month-old baby at home in order to provide for her baby and family.
There was a consideration to afford mothers six months’ maternity leave in the media some years ago, but that discussion remained such. Not only is six months’ maternity leave necessary for both the baby and recovering mother, the conditions regarding payment also need review.
*Katrina Basimike is a concerned citizen.