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Oxfam calls for maternity benefit plan

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A pregnant woman leaves work after her shift in Phnom Penh last April. Heng Chivoan

Oxfam calls for maternity benefit plan

Oxfam has renewed its call for a national policy in Cambodia to ensure that all women workers are given equal access to maternity care.

The international NGO made the call as it wrapped up its three-month maternity protection campaign. The digital “Every Mother Counts” campaign that began on May 1 is now coming to a close after raising awareness in ASEAN countries about the issues faced by working mothers – especially women working in the informal economy, who account for an estimated 90 per cent of the women in the labour force in Cambodia.

In a press release issued on September 15, Oxfam said due to these women’s informal employment status they do not have access to any maternity protection benefits, which makes them more vulnerable to sickness and prone to chronic poverty.

“Through this campaign, Oxfam and partners aimed to engage the public, employers and businesses and national policymakers in discussions about ensuring that all women workers in Cambodia can access maternity protection,” it said.

Oxfam called on the government to better align laws and policies to establish benchmarks in what they call the five core areas: maternity leave; cash and medical benefits; health protections at the workplace for mothers and their children during pregnancy and breastfeeding; employment protection and non-discrimination; and breastfeeding arrangements.

“When our mothers, sisters, and wives are healthy and secure, we are also healthy and secure. But when they become sick, are injured at work, or fall into poverty because we do not support them during pregnancy, childbirth, and early child-raising, our families and societies also suffer,” Oxfam Cambodia country director Lim Solinn was quoted as saying.

Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation spokesman Touch Channy said the ministry had implemented policies to help the poor during the Covid-19 crisis including increased protections for pregnant women and children under the age of five.

“Programmes for providing maternity protections to women workers in the informal economy fall under the purview of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, which has been paying more attention to this issue recently,” he said.

Labour ministry spokesman Heng Sour said on September 15 that officials have been working to establish a policy within the framework of the social protection programme to ensure that maternity protection could be provided to women workers in the informal economy.

Social media celebrity Neang Sovathna – known to her fans as DJ Nana – said that as the mother of a new born baby she understood how important it is that women receive this support. She said pregnancy, childbirth and early child-raising are vulnerable periods in many women’s lives.

“Without maternity protection, informal women workers in Cambodia are at an even greater risk, endangering their children and families. If we truly value women in Cambodia, let us do our part to provide maternity protection for all of them, regardless of their labour status,” she said.

Similarly, Miss Universe Cambodia 2020 Sarita Reth said: “Providing comprehensive maternity protection benefits all women, especially those in the informal sector. It will also help bridge some of the gender gaps that impede the country’s socio-economic progress. Strong women make a stronger nation.”

According to the International Labour Organisation’s data, an estimated 87.5 per cent of all workers in Cambodia can be classified as informal and do not regularly have access to social protection benefits such as maternity protection.

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