A member of the Sharjah royal family has called for extended maternity leave for mothers working in the UAE’s private sector.
Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Sharjah Baby Friendly Office, says extending maternity leave benefits is an “essential step” towards enabling women in the workplace: “We cannot truly empower women if we fail to protect maternity,” she says.
Noting that it has now been 100 years since the first international labour standards on maternity protection were introduced, Sheikha Bodour said: "There is no doubt that many private sector companies are fully committed to providing a supportive work environment for working mothers, yet there remains a need to expand and continue these efforts to keep up with new challenges facing women in the workplace.”
Sharjah has played a key part in advancing the cause of working mothers in the UAE, says Sheikha Bodour. “Five years ago, Sharjah became the first UAE emirate to grant 90 days of paid maternity leave to all mothers working in Sharjah’s government departments.
"The decision was related to our Baby Friendly Project (previously Baby Friendly Emirate Campaign) which was launched in 2011, with a view to establishing a healthy life for children and mothers by fostering a culture of breastfeeding in the emirate’s public places.”
Sharjah’s efforts bore fruit when the emirate was named the world’s first Baby-Friendly City in 2015 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF.
Since then RAK, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have all followed Sharjah’s lead, also offering three months of paid leave for new mums working in government departments.
However the situation is different for private-sector employees: as per UAE Labour Law, women working in the private sector are currently entitled to 45 days of full pay for maternity leave, plus dedicated breastfeeding hours for 18 months post-delivery.
Extending this maternity leave for the private sector is an essential step to achieving social justice and true women’s empowerment, says Sheikha Bodour:
"Adopting the highest standards that safeguard the rights of working mothers will in turn support the nation’s development process and women's empowerment efforts.”
The UAE aims to be one of the world’s top 25 countries in the area of gender equality through its Vision 2021 strategy, and extending maternity leave benefits for women in the private sector would be a key step in the right direction.