Jeddah: Mohannad Sharawi
Published — Saturday 4 May 2013
Last update 4 May 2013 3:31 pm
Scores of women working in both the private and public sectors have demanded that the Ministry of Labor should review the period designated for maternity leave, which is estimated at between 40 and 60 days.
Doctors and gynecologists have unanimously agreed that it is virtually impossible for a woman to resume work after just 40 days of giving birth. They have also stressed the fact that in some cases, such as Caesarean sections, a working woman might need to double the period of rest.
Sara Obeid, an English teacher, said she faced difficulty in her first pregnancy and especially during the postpartum period where she experienced pain, and found it difficult to return to teaching after 40 days as per the maternity and pregnancy leave regulations issued by the Ministry of Labor.
“I tried hard to take a couple of more weeks off but the employer, the directorate general of education in Jeddah, declined my request.”
She added that she had to take about 15 days of unpaid leave. “In normal cases, teaching is hard work, especially when I have to teach around five sessions (each of them 45 minutes) a day. When it comes to a woman who has delivered, it becomes impossible to resume teaching for at least 60 days after giving birth.”
Aisha Al-Harbi, a supervisor at one of the educational supervision offices in Jeddah, told Arab News that the Saudi panel overseeing maternity is not very considerate, as the regulations allow only four weeks before giving birth and 6 after regardless of whether it is a natural birth or a Caesarean section.
She said that all three of her pregnancies were Caesareans with complications, forcing her to stay in bed for about 65 days. “Even though I provided all the medical reports from the hospital to extend my maternity leave period for 20 more days, I was unsuccessful. The only response I could get was, ‘we cannot go beyond the labor regulations’,” Al- Harbi noted.
Lama Murad, an Egyptian executive director at a PR company, noted that the panel should be reconstituted and that the Ministry of Labor ought to deploy female experts. “In my hometown, according to Egyptian labor regulations, a working woman can take up to 90 days paid leave. The period is divided for the duration before and after giving birth,” Murad cited.
Furthermore, regulations here don’t take into account postpartum depression.
Ghadeer Al-Suleiman, a Saudi businesswoman, said the regulations must cover the psychological aftermath in some cases. She recalled that when she was working at the Ministry of Health, she had experienced postpartum depression which, as she described it, was worse than physical pain.
“In fact, I couldn’t return to normal for at least 70 days and I had to shoulder unpaid leave of 30 more days on my own. There was just no way I could go back to work after only 40 days,” complained Al-Suleiman.
Dr. Ahlam Al-Ghamdi, an obstetrics and gynecology surgeon at a local hospital, noted that 40 days is not sufficient for a woman to recover and recommended that the period ought to be doubled depending on the severity of the cases.
“I feel that the time has come for such panels and labor articles to be reviewed,” the doctor added.
According to a recent study conducted by Mercer, a global leader company specializing in talent, health, retirement and investment, Saudi maternity leave regulations have fewer advantages compared to other neighboring countries and developed states.
The study revealed that the six weeks’ leave that is allowed following birth is only half-paid for women who have not completed a working period of three years.
A mother in Saudi Arabia is also allowed two hours of leave daily for breastfeeding for a period of around 18 months, whereas fathers receive only one day paid leave at the time of birth. In comparison, Kuwaiti labor regulations give a female employee a paid maternity leave of 70 days after birth with two hours daily for breastfeeding.
In Qatar, a woman is given 60 days paid leave with an hour for breastfeeding. In Egypt and Jordan, maternity leave is fully paid for 90 days, followed by two hours of nursing, which lasts for 18 months.
The study also revealed that Sweden tops the list for maternity leave rights, where the pregnant employee gets 50 paid days of leave prior to the birth and where both parents are entitled for paternity and maternity leave after birth, equaling 450 days with 80 percent paid salary. In Norway, working mothers get an entire year with 80 percent of the salary.