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All Parents should be entitled to paid leave

Current Practices of Maternity Leave:

Cambodia is one among approximately 125 countries that have regulations concerning maternity leave and benefits for women workers. Article 46 of the Cambodian constitution guarantees the right for women to maternity leave with full payment without loss of seniority or social benefits and also sets out that women shall not be terminated from their job because of their pregnancy. The Labor law 1997, articles 182 and 183, stated that employers must give women workers ninety days (3 months) of maternity leave with half of their wage, including their benefits. Notably, this provision is only granted to employees who have completed a minimum of one year of uninterrupted service with the enterprise.

Although the existing laws aim to support women workers during pregnancy and postpartum by providing security in their jobs as well as protecting social benefits, maternity protections are still hard for many women in the labor force to reach when the provision is only granted to those in formal employment with specific requirements. For instance, the millions of women working in Cambodia’s informal economy slip through the legislative cracks.

Why do we need more than maternity leave?

There is a clear need for more efforts in ensuring all women have access to available maternity protections that center around income and job security. However, for those who are eligible for paid leave, it is also time to further extend the discussion to a more inclusive and gender-sensitive leave policy that takes into account women’s well-being after childbirth and the equal share of childcare responsibility between all parents.

As of now, Cambodia does not have any regulations that specifically provide paid leave for new parents who are not pregnant and giving birth. Nonetheless, the new fathers can take special paid leave for personal reasons which include childbirth for up to 7 days. It is unknown whether this special paid leave is being routinely observed by employers, and it is also unknown whether women who are partners of a childbearing parent (such as for example, the non-birthing mother in a lesbian couple) are granted access to this leave.

Providing specific parental leave solely to birthing parents (usually women), as in the case of Cambodia, does not ensure a decent work and home life for women. Rather, it even poses challenges to women: for example, it increases the likelihood of discrimination against their pregnancy status at the workplace and the risk of getting a termination (despite the protections on paper in the Labor Law). In a recent union press conference regarding the NagaWorld case, union leaders in several sectors reported that discrimination against women workers in relation to their pregnancy status is still prevalent. One woman worker reported that she was not allowed to get pregnant while on probation, yet the probation period kept being extended from three months to three years. She said, "If they know we are pregnant, they would tell [us] to resign." In addition, most factories tend to put short-term contracts for their staff which make it harder for women workers to avail of maternity protection and even puts them at risk of being terminated from their work. "Now that I am six months pregnant, my contract was not renewed," said Pisey, who worked for a shoe factory and was always placed on a six-month contract.

Another noted challenge is when it comes to childcare responsibilities and housework, women are burdened with project managing these tasks in the family because of societal norms and traditional gender roles. This is evident in the International Labor Organization (ILO)’s finding that Cambodian men spend only 18 minutes per day on caring and household services, while women perform 188 minutes.

Why is it always and only women who are expected and burdened to take care of the newborn baby after they go through a nine-month journey of childbearing and birth-giving? Why should we not break the traditional practices and support fathers to take care of their newborn babies and tasks at home?

For all of the above reasons and more, paid parental leave should be provided to all parents regardless of their gender. Not only does it prevent discrimination against women in the workplace, but it leads to a more equal share of childcare responsibilities and distribution of unpaid care work, which can significantly improve mothers' well-being at home.

Studies show that parental leaves allow the father to spend more time at home which results in them involve more in childcare and boosts their confidence in performing this task as well as their commitment to doing household chores. For instance, after Norway reserved 14 weeks of total parental leave exclusively for fathers, the post-reform parents were 50% more likely to divide the tasks equally than the pre-reform parents were, for example, in washing clothes, and they tend to have more healthy relationships over time.

In addition, when childcare and housework are shared between parents, it constitutes more time for women to recover from the exhausting pregnancy journey, as there are chances that mothers will experience postpartum depression after giving birth. Research on maternal and child mental health stated that “Postpartum depression may have serious repercussions for both the mother and the infant. For the mother, untreated postpartum depression can cause intense sadness, anxiety, and a lack of interest in the child—all of which may result in poor infant attachment.”

It is also important to further touch on mental load in relation to housework and childcare which is often an overlooked factor that leads to women experiencing stress and mental problems, especially during postpartum. Perhaps, the discussion on parental leave would start more conversations about how mental load should be shared between parents and that not only women that have to constantly remember what tasks at home need to be done by when, and who responds to that particular task, for example, when to feed the newborn baby or where the baby’s bottle is located.

Parental leave can also be a critical step to challenge social norms and gender roles that expect women to project manage childcare and housework regardless of their employment status and discourage men from performing any of these tasks when they should be shared equally.

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