Rwanda may be leading the pack when it comes to female representation in parliament (64 per cent of all Rwandan MPs are women) but when it comes to women’s rights in the workplace, there is still some way to go. Incidents of gender-based violence are still high and tackling gender inequality is still an urgent priority for women in rural areas.
But a draft law on maternity leave is being heralded as a massive step in the right direction by civil society organisations and trade unions.
If the Maternity Leave Benefits Scheme is approved by the Rwandan parliament, working women will be given 12 weeks of fully-paid maternity leave.
The cabinet and the parliament approved the draft law in March before passing it on to the Parliamentary Committee for Social Affairs for review. It is expected to receive the final stamp of approval in the coming weeks.
Under the new law, employers will pay half of the worker’s salary while a social security fund will cover the remaining 50 per cent. According to the bill every employee, whether private or public, will have to make a mandatory contribution of 0.6 per cent of their salary to the scheme.
To ease the process, all contributions will be deducted by employers via the existing Rwanda Social Security Fund (RSSB), regardless of the worker’s contract type or pay grade.
Previously, working women were entitled to collect their full salary for the first six weeks of their maternity leave only followed by 20 per cent pay for the remaining six weeks – otherwise they would have to return to work.
The new proposals have been welcomed by campaigners.
Dominique Bicamumpaka, president of the Congrès du Travail et de la Fraternité au Rwanda (COTRAF) told Equal Times: “As COTRAF, we support the move. We were involved in the whole process and we encourage all the citizens to embrace this new initiative wholeheartedly because when a woman gives birth, it is not only for the family but also for the society”.
Andre Mutsindashyaka, secretary general of the Rwanda Extractive Industry Workers Union (REWU), which is an affiliate of the Centrale Syndicale des Travailleurs du Rwanda (CESTRAR), welcomes the new proposals.
“The previous law seemed to be punishing new mothers. Most people seem to put profit before everything; they view new mothers as less productive or as disruptive. This is wrong. There is a need for awareness campaigns so that people can understand that in the end, everyone wins,” he said.
But Mutsindashyaka also said that the increased maternity pay is just the first step towards improving conditions for new mothers.
“We are trying to make it easier for mothers, especially those nursing, by finding ways how they can work but also look after their babies. So far, there is a plan that we hope to launch in five years, which will see each office have a daycare centre where mothers can breastfeed their babies. So far, some places like OCIR Thé (the Rwandan Tea Authority) are providing [daycare facilities] and we hope that eventually, every office can do the same,” he said.
Olive Uwamariya, a gender activist with Care International told Equal Times that the establishment of a new maternity law speaks volumes about the work female MPs are putting into advocating for women’s rights and is something that should be commended.
“Women deserve respect. I know the journey is still long but when changes like these happen, at least we feel we are making progress. Having a baby was beginning to sound like a problem because of the issues of time and money but this new law is a good sign that things can only get better and better. This is something to be applauded”.