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ILCA Advocating for Maternity Protection at the International Labour Organization

ILCA continued its efforts to increase maternity protection, including advocacy for nursing breaks for mothers, at the recent International Labour Organization (ILO) Centennial Celebration.

The ILO, founded 100 years ago, exists to set labor standards, develop policies and devise programs promoting decent work for all women and men. Established as the first specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) in 1947, the ILO is unique in its tripartite structure, bringing together governments, employers, and workers from 187 member states.

Lisa Mandell, MBA, IBCLC, is one of ILCA’s liaisons to the United Nations. Lisa has for the last eighteen months joined other ILCA liaisons who have been working with the UN with the goal of elevating the needs of breastfeeding families in the workplace. On 10 April 2019 she attended the ILO Centennial Celebration, a High-Level Meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York. This meeting was held to celebrate the founding of the International Labour Organization (ILO) 100 years ago, reflect on their accomplishments, and discuss the future of work.

The High-Level Meeting included remarks from high-level UN officials, including the UN Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly, and the Director-General of the ILO and representatives from 24 different member states or groups of states. The speakers emphasized the importance of working toward the goal of decent work for all, how social justice is a part of this effort, and that labor should not be viewed as a commodity. Many discussed the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG 8) on Decent Work and Economic Growth. Challenges identified include mass unemployment, discrimination, and informal work; emerging issues include digitalization, climate change, demographic change. Of importance to ILCA, many speakers mentioned a focus on women and work, increasing women’s participation in the workforce and reducing the gender pay gap.

At two interactive panels, Addressing Unfinished Commitments to Achieve Decent Work for All, and The Future of Work, the challenges and emerging issues were discussed. Women’s employment remains a priority. With discussion of the changes in the world of work through technology and other issues, consideration of meeting the needs of working and breastfeeding parents will be critical.

In her role as liaison to the UN, Lisa not only advocates for lactation-related outcomes, but also brings back to the advocacy team a deeper understanding of the ways in which ILCA can align our advocacy goals with the larger world agenda around work. This continues the work ILCA has been doing, with other organizations, to emphasize the importance of maternity protection and pumping or nursing breaks for employed mothers, as identified in this statement for the Commission on the Status of Women.

2 Responses to ILCA Advocating for Maternity Protection at the International Labour Organization

  1. Ted Greiner 21 April 2019 at 15:52 #

    The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency sent me to the ILO to explore their orientation toward the issues related to maternity protection in 1989. When I arrived, I was sent to talk with three groups there. All three wanted to see maternity protection language softened (benefits degraded) compared to the existing conventions (one when they were founded a century ago and another in the early 1950s). Those working with fertility felt giving benefits to mothers would result in an increase in fertility. Those working with macroeconomic issues felt maternity protection was too expensive. Those working with women and work issues felt that maternity protection reduced motivation for hiring women.

    A very important consideration for the ILO is that they want many countries to ratify their conventions. They were certain that any strengthening of the maternity protection convention would do harm by decreasing the number of countries that ratified it.

    At meetings and in print, I then began arguing that (1) all costs for maternity protection had to come from taxation of the general public, not from employers, (2) advocacy for maternity protection should take the argument away from economic considerations by pointing out that breastfeeding and the harms to health caused by not practicing it should be discussed in a rights perspective. I pointed out that the main argument against women voting a century ago was that it would cost twice as much to hold elections. That sounds amusing today ONLY because we consider women voting to be a right, not an economic issue. The pro-fertility aspect should actually be highlighted in countries with low fertility, which basically includes all wealthier countries.

    This reduction in benefits that the ILO had told me they wanted was incorporated into their draft language for a revised Maternity Protection Convention that was discussed at the ILO convention in 2000 in Geneva. WABA sent lobbyists to the meeting, something the ILO was inexperienced in dealing with. They went around and talked with individual delegations and it was not difficult to convince them that a strengthening, not a weakening of the convention was called for. They got their way; a moderate increase in benefits was called for. And sure enough, the ILO was correct: very few countries have ratified the 2000 convention.

  2. Prof Prem raj Pushpakaran (@drpremrajp) 11 August 2019 at 03:59 #

    Prof Prem raj Pushpakaran writes — 2019 marks the 100th year of International Labour Organization!!!

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