The UAE has one of the shortest provisions for maternity leave, when compared to other countries around the world. Mothers-to-be in the UAE are entitled to only 60 days of paid maternity leave for government employees and 45 days for those who work in the private sector.
This short period of leave, however, can often create problems for new mothers and put them in difficult situations, as they try to balance the challenges of motherhood with the responsibilities of returning to work.
As The National reported yesterday, mothers have begun to call for a longer maternity leave and to be allowed greater opportunities for flexible working hours or even part-time positions.
Many of these mothers usually face a dilemma after giving birth: either they leave their jobs to take care of their children, or return to work after their short leave of absence ends and potentially struggle with the seemingly conflicting demands of children and career.
Some experts say that a short maternity leave can negatively affect a mother's ability to bond with her newborn. In some cases it can also make new mothers feel they are forced to make a choice between their livelihoods and motherhood. Some expat mothers have also faced difficulties finding appropriate nursery facilities, as they don't have the option of leaving their infants with close family members.
Balancing the demands of career and home is not an easy task and working mothers need all kind of legal, organisational and social support. The Dubai Women Establishment studied the length of maternity leave in 39 countries and found that only eight of them provided fewer leave days than the UAE. In 2009, it proposed a draft policy on both maternity leave and breast-feeding to the Federal Authority for Government Human Resources. The policy, however, has not yet been adopted.
Introducing such a policy and granting women a longer leave of absence would certainly help matters, as would the opportunity to take further unpaid leave after the end of any statutory maternity period. Employers should be encouraged to take a flexible approach when negotiating with new mothers. In today's connected world, working from home has never been easier or more productive.
The UAE has moved a long way in a little under 42 years in society and the workplace. Beginning a discussion about more flexible maternity leave would only continue that journey.