Press release: Oxfam organizes digital Maternity Protection campaign in three ASEAN countries

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Oxfam Brings Attention to the Challenges Marginalized Women Workers in the Informal Economy Face in Accessing Maternity Protection in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam

Phnom Penh, 6 May 2021–Oxfam and partners in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam is organizing a two-month digital campaign, “Every Mother Counts,” in May and June to raise awareness on the challenges faced by women workers in accessing maternity protection benefits. The campaign pays special attention to informal and self-account women workers who make up approximately 90% of women in the labour force in Cambodia, 90% in Laos, and 75% in Vietnam. According to Oxfam, due to these women’s informal status, they cannot access any maternity protection benefits, which makes them more vulnerable to chronic poverty, especially during an economically devastating COVID-19 pandemic. Through this campaign, Oxfam and partners aim to engage younger members of the public, employers and businesses, national policymakers, and ASEAN bodies in discussions about how to ensure that all women workers in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam can access better maternity protections.

Ms. Lan Mercado, Regional Director for Oxfam in Asia said: “Maternity protection is a fundamental labour right of all women that is key to combating the economic gender inequalities and injustices arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. For many women workers in ASEAN, strict lockdown measures have led to surges in unemployment, financial insecurity, domestic violence, unintended pregnancies, and more responsibilities to care for COVID-19 victims and educate children due to school closures. More than ever, we must come together in solidarity to ensure that all women workers, including those belonging to migrant and informal sectors, are supported during the vulnerable periods of pregnancy and maternity. Informal women workers are the pillars of ASEAN: not only are they primary breadwinners for their families, they also perform more hours on average of domestic chores and care duties compared to men. Maternity protection not only protects women and their children, it also safeguards the immense value these women provide daily to their families and societies.”

According to a soon-to-be-released Oxfam report on Maternity Protection, national legislation in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam presents a formidable obstacle to providing better maternity protection for marginalized women workers in the informal economy. Informal, self-account and short-term contract workers in these countries fall outside the coverage of protection offered by respective legislation in these countries. To avail maternity protection benefits, women workers are required to have formalized work arrangements, and must prove that they have met the minimum eligibility requirements for contributory social insurance or social assistance schemes. Most informal women workers, however, cannot meet these requirements, as they have no formal employment arrangements, and work too irregularly to afford making regular contributions to social insurance schemes.

Given the challenges of pregnancy and maternity, especially for informal women workers, Oxfam calls on the Cambodian, Laos, and Vietnamese governments to consider better aligning laws and policies with ILO Maternity Protection Convention No. 183 (2000), which establishes benchmarks in five core areas: maternity leave; cash and medical benefits; health protection at the workplace for mothers and their children during pregnancy, and during breastfeeding; employment protection and non-discrimination; and breastfeeding arrangements.

The campaign is part of Oxfam’s Regional Social Protection Program which aims to promote decent work for sustainable, equitable and inclusive development across the region. The program supports marginalized workers across the region to organize and participate in social dialogue to demand for equitable access to social protection systems. Maternity protection is an essential part of comprehensive social protection measures.

Notes to editors: 

About Maternity Protection: Maternity protection is an important fundamental human right and an essential component to achieve gender equality and support economic growth. It is important for enhancing the wellbeing, health and nutrition of mothers and children, and for ensuring women’s equal opportunities and treatment in the world of work. To protect women’s health and productivity and to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of gender, expectant and recovering mothers should have the right to take time off work for childbirth and recovery. Maternity protection facilitates women’s recovery and supports breastfeeding which ultimately facilitates healthy development of children.

Contact information: 

Ms. Naratevy Kek