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Healthy pregnancies and healthy newborn children, combined with a measure of economic security, are an aspiration for all working mothers. Maternity protection at work supports this aspiration. Its goals are twofold: 1) to ensure that a woman’s economic activities do not pose risks to the health of the woman and her child, and 2) to ensure that women’s reproductive roles do not compromise the economic security of their households. Maternity protection at work encompasses a host of different components ranging from maternity leave, health protection and non-discrimination to social protection and breastfeeding.

Principles and rights related to maternity protection at work have been embedded in three Conventions on maternity protection of the International Labour Organization (ILO). These rights are also firmly established in a host of international treaties relating to human rights, women’s rights, rights to health, and the rights of the child. Almost every nation echoes these commitments in its national legislation.

Nevertheless, while maternity protection is widely regarded as part of the core values of our societies, many women, both in the formal and informal economies, continue to face maternity-related threats to their health and economic security. Many women lack access to a period of paid leave before and after childbirth, and many others continue to face dismissal and discrimination at work because they are or may become pregnant. Working conditions, and biological, physical, and chemical agents associated with productive work can potentially pose risks to reproduction in the absence of information, monitoring and evaluation. The ability of new mothers to breastfeed their child according to international health recommendations may be interrupted by productive work when breastfeeding support is lacking. Bringing up children without jeopardizing parents’ access to, participation in and advancement in economic activity, remains a challenge when quality and affordable childcare arrangements are not widely available.

While the situation of women working in formal, standard jobs is uneven, for great numbers of women working in atypical, non-standard and precarious jobs and the informal economy, maternity protection remains well beyond reach. The absence of any form of social protection deprives these women of appropriate maternal and infant health care, thus forcing some of them into catastrophic health expenditures and poverty. Clearly, more action is needed to bridge the distance between international aspirations for maternity protection, as reflected in the Millennium Development Goals and the Decent Work Agenda, and the realities. The world of work is a promising entry point for scaling up interventions aimed at improving maternal and infant health, addressing income and social insecurity and poverty.

This Maternity Protection Resource Package is designed to:
  • bring together information and tools, expertise and knowledge concerning each and every component comprising maternity protection at work into one place;
  • serve as a resource and a guide for actors ready to launch information and education campaigns and to plan, design or monitor action that will bring about real improvements in maternity protection at work.

The Package can be used by governments, trade unions, employers’ organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), researchers and practitioners, United Nations (UN) officials and others. The information is intended to be accessible to a non-technical audience, with resources for further technical information noted at the end of each module. Numerous examples of actions in improving maternity protection at work in all types of economic activities around the world are highlighted throughout the Package, for guidance and inspiration. The message of the Package is that the aspiration of maternity protection at work for all is both desirable and possible. Even in the most challenging situations, commitment and the will to act can bring about results and benefits, contributing to equitable economic growth, social cohesion and Decent Work for all women and men.

Assane Diop
Executive Director
Social Protection Sector

Manuela Tomei
Director of the Labour Protection Department (PROTRAV)

Philippe Marcadent
Chief of the Conditions of Work and Employment Branch (TRAVAIL)