Definition of maternity leave:
‘a period of absence from work granted to a mother before and after the birth of her child’
What the dictionary fails to define is:
‘a period of absence from paid, formal, employment, negotiated from an employer to a mother as close to giving birth as humanly possible (because said, employer doesn’t feel the need to care about the heavily pregnant woman so close to her due date, “the 3 months begin as soon as you leave the office today madam, eh?”) and after the birth of her child, for as little as 30 calendar days (including Saturdays and Sundays).
What the dictionary also doesn’t explain is that self employed mothers cannot be paid when they’re away from work, they must actually work so as to provide for their family.
In my country, there are many women who are not ‘formally employed’. They work day to day for as little as 300 Kshs- cleaning, cooking and taking care of other people’s children. If, and when, they get pregnant, they are ‘released’ from their positions by irritated and disappointed employers (who ask the next lady if they plan on having any children while they are employed).
They all of a sudden, have no income, and no way to have an income.
The community where my husband comes from, believe in a mother staying indoors with a newborn for three months. Three months! That’s 90 days- up to 72 working days- at 300 Kshs a day, that is 21,600 Kshs of ‘lost’ income. The mother, especially if she’s a single mother has no way to feed herself and her new baby. The three month indoors requirement becomes completely unsustainable for her. What she, and countless other women, end up doing is, strapping their baby on their back and going out to look for part time work, as little as 2 weeks after baby is born.
They lay a blanket on the ground for their baby, and do whatever work they can get. They clean houses, they launder clothes, they cook meals. Many carry buckets of water on their heads with baby on their backs.
All the while, mothers like me, have no idea what a privilege maternity leave is, complaining about having to stay indoors for three months. It is laughable!