Dear employers, respect the Maternity Leave

Burundian pregnant women are protected by Burundi’s Labor Code and the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention to which Burundi is a signatory country. But how well are expecting mothers protected?-By Joanna Nganda


Cynthia, 29, is eight months into her pregnancy but her prominent stomach has been in the middle of a controversy for two months now. “The Administrator and Financial Director of the company I work for approached me a few months ago and made it very clear that I wouldn’t be allowed to take a fourteen-week long Maternity Leave. He said a month was enough and that I should be back to work by then. I was in shock!”, says Cynthia, with both anger and sadness in her voice, “when I tried to talk to our boss about it, he laughed at me and said that there were plenty of unemployed people out there, willing to work year round without taking maternity leaves.”

Spès, a 38 years old accountant, had a bad experience: “I always deliver through a caesarean section and it normally takes 9 weeks to recover at home. But this time, my boss gave me 4 weeks…about half the time necessary to recover from a c-section. Now I have an infection around my scar. It’s a mild infection but it will take even more time to heal now and I am not sure to be able to keep my job if I allow myself to heal at home”, worries Spès, also mentioning her excruciating back pains.
An Administrative and Financial Director in the private sector dares to speak up: “it’s impossible to give three months long paid holidays! The company will need to hire someone else to replace the woman on maternity leave. That’s paying twice for one post…It represents an amount of money we are not willing to pay; that’s why we prefer to shorten the maternity leave to 4 weeks. It’s a mutual agreement: we save money, you keep the job.”

Dr. Nihorimbere Janvier is very clear: “it is an obligation for employers to allow the mother to recover at home. She has 14 weeks, as mentioned in the Labor Code. If the mother-to-be so wishes, she can take her maternity leave few weeks before giving birth in order to relax and get prepared.” Indeed, Dr. Janvier says that being too stressed during the last days of the pregnancy can cause premature birth, which always implies a lot of costly hospital fees. “Childbirth is not simple. The mother puts her body through tremendous pain and stress and maternity leaves are there to allow her to recover and take care of her new-born; it’s a special moment to bond with her child”, concludes the doctor. The 14 weeks maternity leave is one of the most basic rights in both the Labor Code and ILO; every pregnant woman has a right to it and should demand to have it entirely.