By BIMBOLA OYESOLA
Rose Adu (not real name), a mother of two and heavily pregnant with the third child is a teacher with a private school in Lagos State. Her daily routine begins at 4 a.m. when she wakes up to prepare the children for school. Rose has to prepare lunch and probably dinner for the children who schooled within neighbourhood because her place of work is over an hour drive from her residence.
But due to the traffic logjam in the city of Lagos, this could take her three to four hours both in the morning and at the close of work. She leaves home at 6 a.m. and returns at 8 p.m., but may not go to bed until 12 midnight as she still needs to do other chores in the house. This is a normal routine of most Nigerian working women.
As an expectant mother, Rose is entitled to three months maternity leave, according to International Labour Organisation (ILO) which Nigeria is a signatory to, but Rose in her previous births, never had more than six weeks maternity leave and she may have to work till the full term of her pregnancy before she gets the required ‘six weeks’ from her employer.
Protecting the maternity of women workers has been a core issues for the member states of the ILO since its establishment in 1919. The first Convention on Maternity Protection (Convention No. 183) was adopted that year. The essence of maternity protection is to enable women to successfully combine their reproductive role and prevent unequal treatment in employment due to their reproductive role.
The issue of gender policies has been a great challenge to Nigeria Trade Union Movement, most especially when it comes to actualization of the policies in the work place.
Women, according to official figures, constitute 45 per cent of the estimated 150 million population of Nigeria. However, it has been observed over time that the percentage of the women at leadership positions, be it governmental, NGO, associations and other groups and bodies is not proportionate to their population.
Nigerian women have for years suffered injustices and marginalisation as a result of cultural disabilities, which has affected their activities in many fields of endeavour including their participation in trade unionism. History has shown that at the inception of western education in Nigeria, most parents were reluctant to send their female children to school or to acquire skills in other trades because of the traditional belief that they would end up in other men’s houses as wives.
This ugly perception about women’s position in the society has since undermined the capabilities and potentialities of women and has resulted in the retarded growth and development of the society including the trade union movement.
Having identified this shortfall, Labour has imbibed the spirit of 35 per cent affirmation for women as being chronicled in the national polity. The ILO is also championing the campaign for equal opportunity for women.
It was against this backdrop that the two labour centres in the country, Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) introduced Women Commission to coordinate the women and have their voice heard in the movement and work place which have been dominated by men.
Affiliated unions were also encouraged to set up Women Commission at union level as it is believed that galvanising women from the grassroots is the surest way to raise their consciousness.
The labour movement believes that with the women involvement, gender justice could become the cardinal principles of the society and shall mean in real terms, equal access to employment opportunities, and absence of discriminatory practices against both genders and recognition of the productive and reproductive roles of each gender.
In his address at the International Women Day, President General of TUC, Comrade Peter Esele Challenged the Government to re-introduced the Ministry of Women Affairs to champion the cause and education of women. He also charged the government to declare every March 8 as a work free day to crown and give respect to these “wonderful species” created by God.
“We also will love to see more women taking up appointments in key areas of our national life. This we believe will drastically reduce cases of fraud and other social vices in the country as women we all know are less prone to taking to crimes.
“On our part, we will continue to ensure that more women are elected into all organs of the congress at all levels,” Esele stated.
The former President General of the TUC, who was also the first President General and First African Woman to lead a labour centre, Comrade (Mrs) Peace Obiajulu however expressed that discrimination against women because of their reproductive roles remains a major barrier to equality of opportunity and treatment between men and women in employment.
According to her, finding effective ways of ensuring that practices comply with legislation represents a major challenge to government and the social partners, including the labour movement.
Though the ILO convention provided guarantee for pregnant and nursing mothers that they will not lose their jobs because of pregnancy. Likewise, it provides for employment security, prohibiting dismissal during pregnancy, maternity leave and a period of time after return to work. The right to reinstatement to same job or an equivalent with the same pay constitutes.
The above, according to Comrade Halima Ibrahim, former treasurer and chairperson Women Commission of TUC are still flagrantly being abused and disobeyed by some Nigerian employers.
“In Labour, some of the rights and privileges of women gotten before are now being eroded by globalisation. In many government establishments today if your title is Miss, you will have to go on maternity leave without pay, which is discriminatory.
“The advent of contract labour also has eroded the right to maternity leave, as most of these new companies do not want to grant such. Hence, a pregnant worker would have to resign and re-apply after birth, without any assurance of getting the job back,” she said.
Comrade Ibrahim stated further that the rules in some organisation like the Nigeria Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) is that a female employee must never get pregnant in the first two years of employment, failure which leads to automatic termination.
“There are some female union members who fell victims, we tried to take it up from the union, but we did not get people gender sensitive enough to support us. As a result, that situation is still there, many years after it has been pointed out. It is also wrong for any employer to give six weeks maternity leave, the statutory period is 12 weeks,” she stressed.
Comrade Ibrahim also identified other discriminatory policies against women in the work place as sexual harassment, the HIV/AIDS as well as employment discrimination.
“Most employers do not believe that because a woman has the same qualification with a man, such can be as competent as the man. For a woman to be as good as a man, she has to work twice harder or 50 harder, otherwise many employers would not believe that a woman is as competent as a man. There is that stereotype that women are generally intellectually inferior, economically unproductive. Most employers would prefer to take a man and leave a woman,” she lamented.
The former TUC President General, Comrade Obiajulu, also corroborated that women in Nigeria tend to be over-represented among the low income, while it is also difficult for women who leave the labour market to care for the children to re-enter when their children are older.
In a bid to reconcile both family live and enhance the involvement and profile of women in workplace, Comrade Obiajulu believes among others that unions and national centres should push for better labour legislation to stop discriminatory policies and practices and promote better maternity protection, child care, pay equity and protection from sexual harassment.
Other options include a multi-sectorial approach to gender equality in legislation, policies and strategies – it calls for over-reaching policies and legislation that addresses gender equality and non discrimination in general.
•Policies and Planning – the tripartite bodies must adopt policies and actions plans that are driven by identified needs to promote gender equality. This includes balanced representative of women and men in representative bodies and at decision-making levels.
•Use of gender expertise – putting up good structures that accommodate women.
•Gender specific action (affirmative actions) through education and literacy courses. Addressing child-bearing and child caring issues, capacity building of women to raise their status and opportunity at work through training that promote positive change.
•Advancing human rights and gender sensitive issues: combating violence against women, anti-discriminatory measures.
•Proper maternity arrangement and more friendly policies at work.
•Encouraging women entrepreneur and enabling their business to flourish through availability of soft loans.
•Working in partnership with employers to reconcile work and family life.
•Education for girl-child.
•Women making specific effort to belong to the Unions.
•Finally, trade unions structure must be restructured to accommodate women. It should also campaign for women rights and continue to organise women into Trade Unions.
It should also be noted that Labour has equally moved a step further by mandating employers of labour to have a day care at work to enable nursing mothers care for their breast-feeding infants. This, Labour believes, would improve productivity as it will enable the nursing mother to concentrate more at work. As laudable as it appears, only few employers have complied with this laudable idea backed by ILO.