Karabo Mokoena
Content producer
4 minute read
29 Mar 2021
12:00 pm

Would the plight of SA mothers be heard if we had a woman premier like New Zealand?

Karabo Mokoena

It is no surprise that a country with a woman prime minister and working mother would pass a law on bereavement leave for miscarriages.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Image: Facebook @JacindaArdern

This past week, the New Zealand government passed a bill that allows couples who experience a miscarriage to take maternity leave.

The previous law required women who miscarried to take sick leave should they require time off. Often, women are forced to go back to work without being able to take leave for various reasons. Some women are back to work a day after a completed miscarriage.  

In South Africa, the laws that manage maternity are still a work in progress. In January 2020, we passed a law that allows the father/partner 10 paid leave days. It was previously three days.  

The rule that governs women and miscarriage, however, still requires some judicial attention. 

According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 ,”an employee who has a miscarriage during the third trimester of pregnancy or bears a stillborn child is entitled to maternity leave for six weeks after the miscarriage or stillbirth, whether or not the employee had commenced maternity leave at the time of the miscarriage or stillbirth”.

A miscarriage in the first and second trimester does not “qualify” to be treated as a recognised pregnancy. This means that a woman would have to take sick leave. If granted, a partner could also take some time off to help their recovering loved one. 

Now, here is why the New Zealand law did not surprise me. 

Jacinda Ardern. That’s why. 

I was introduced to the Primer Minister of New Zealand when she brought her infant to the UN Assembly one day. This was in New York at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit during the 73rd UN General Assembly. Baby Nave was three months old and Ardern was “technically” still on maternity leave. She officially took six weeks of maternity leave.

Before traveling with Nave to New York, laws were tweaked to accommodate PMs and ministers to travel on foreign assignments with their children and nannies. 

In a live Covid-19 Q&A on Facebook, she spoke at length about streaming live after putting her daughter to sleep and clothed in loungewear like working moms everywhere. 

Ardern, as the leader of a country, has become a big advocate for working moms everywhere. Her leadership has been exemplary, and she has inspired a wave of “working mom pride” across the globe. 

Why are miscarriages not eligible for maternity leave?

One in four women have had or will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime. This number does not account for the number of women who miscarry unknowingly. 

This number is both a justification of the need for laws that protect every woman who miscarries and the same statistic that justifies not recognising the need for better regulation. 

In a company with 12 female employees, three of those women have miscarried, or will miscarry. 

Giving these women paid maternity leave will inevitably cost any company. The monetary cost, however, will not equate to the necessity of healing time for a woman who miscarries. 

The amount of blood lost during a miscarriage requires some bed rest. The emotional trauma of losing a child in utero far outweighs the financial costs incurred by companies. 

We can only hope that New Zealand will be the ultimate influencer, inspiring countries such as ours to do the right thing. 

Perhaps it is time for a female leader who understands our needs better:

  • How much protection we need in the workplace when we announce our pregnancies. 
  • The need for sanitary breast pumping facilities when we get back to work. 
  • Better pay in the workplace (pay gap issues)

One in four is the same number of children who are born stunted in South Africa because their poor mothers could not eat regularly, or eat balanced meals. Here is a petition by mothers for mothers pleading to the government to help feed poor pregnant women. Click here to sign

Perhaps a female leader will understand the female needs much better and encourage laws that better protect the most vulnerable groups in society, namely women and children.

I have lost count of the number of gender-based violence protests and campaigns I have seen. Heck, I even helped organise and attended one months into my pregnancy from fear of birthing a girl child in this country. It continues to be a pandemic. 

I am sitting in hope of what Samia Suluhu Hassan will do to better the lives of Tanzanian women and children. 

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