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A mother's right to work, to parent

Sharjah has given new life to efforts to overhaul maternity leave policies in the UAE.

Career or family? For working women in the UAE, it's the ultimate conundrum. "I really don't want to resign" after giving birth, Ruba abu Obeidallah of the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development told The National in April. But, "I don't think I can bounce back to work in 45 days."

Mrs abu Obeidallah faced a tough decision with her second child last year. But thanks to officials in Sharjah, future deliberations will be a little easier.

As we reported yesterday, a new proposal signed into law in that emirate extends to 60 days the legally permitted paid-absence period for new mothers. The measure also provides a one-year post-maternity leave programme which makes it easier for professional women to breast feed their infants by spending time with them during the day. Most encouraging, the law gives fathers three days of paid paternity leave, a progressive policy that underscores the importance of fathers in the lives of children.

In advocating for and successfully implementing the leave extension, officials in Sharjah have given fresh breath to a policy that is frequently discussed in the UAE, but rarely acted upon. Despite the UAE's increasingly progressive approach to labour regulations, Sharjah is so far ahead of the curve in addressing this critical issue. Nationwide, women working in the private sector are still guaranteed only 45 days of paid leave under federal law, with pay rates depending on how long they've been employed. This, according to a UN report released last fall, ranks among the least generous leave policies in the world. Qatar, Syria and Yemen all offer a few days more; Norway, by contrast, allows for an entire year.

Post-natal care and a woman's career should not be mutually exclusive; women can't be asked to give up their professions to raise families. Nor should the Government be content with allowing for nearly half its workforce to vacate top jobs when caring for a newborn.

"Asking women to have more babies doesn't mean discouraging them from working," one female FNC representative said last year. Officials in Sharjah have demonstrated they understand this progressive message.

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