Monday, June 9, 2008

Saudi Women

This is an old article - from 2003 - but I found it still quite pertinent today.

Bright Future Awaits Saudi Women" by Samar Fatany
"Young women today are more aware of their strengths and capabilities. They are no longer intimidated by the male-dominated culture that continues to marginalize their role in society. The status of women in the Kingdom is slowly changing, and women remain determined to assert their position as contributing citizens in all fields: Socially, economically and politically.

The government has provided more opportunities for women in the work force. The latest statistics show that 54 percent of university graduates are women. Employers seek these well-qualified women due to their determination and professionalism.

Saudi women are slowly learning to take advantage of the newly introduced laws, as well as existing ones. They also continue to demand the elimination of discriminatory laws governing legal guardianship, exclusion from the Shoura Council and standing for municipal elections. Women attorneys still await the right to practice law. Women hope to achieve better lives and brighter futures for their sons and daughters. They continue to challenge policies that discriminate against them and elements that resist modernization and constructive change."

But there was one paragraph that really caught my attention:
"The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has implemented new laws to protect women in the work force. Under the new labor law, pregnant women are protected from termination due to maternity leave issues. Women get 10 weeks of maternity pay — four weeks before birth and six weeks after — in addition to the one-month paid vacation allowed to all workers. Employers have to pay full pregnancy-related health expenses. Moreover, companies that employ more than 50 women are now required to have onsite nurseries, and women get an hour during the shift to breastfeed. The laws also stipulate that in the event of employers failing to follow the new regulations, labor office branches will follow up on complaints in order to ensure compliance."

Why did this take my attention - simply because here in Australia we are still arguing over whether women should be entitled to paid maternity leave - and this is 2008! The question of whether women who took maternity should be paid has been hotly debated in Parliament since 2001. Don't get me wrong - women can take maternity leave - unpaid maternity leave!

In 2007, the Australian Democrats (Australian political party) "re-introduced historic federal legislation to establish a paid maternity leave scheme that would provide all working women with 14 weeks Government-funded leave at the minimum wage on the birth or adoption of a child." (Source: Australian Democrats website).

From the ACTU website: "Paid Maternity Leave Is Long Overdue"
"Australia lags well behind the rest of the world in supporting new mothers. Over 157 nations around the world have some kind of paid maternity leave provision. The consequences of Australia not having paid maternity leave means that Australia has one of the lowest levels of workforce participation for women between the ages of 25 and 44 and is ranked 23 out of 24 OCED nations. Australia and the United States are the only two OECD countries that do not offer paid maternity leave.

The ACTU has been campaigning since 1979 to get a government funded paid maternity scheme and we firmly believe that now is the best opportunity to achieve a 14 week scheme that we can build on in the future."

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel .... There was this report from the ABC last week: "Unions Praise Woolworths' Paid Maternity Leave"
"The ACTU [Australian Council of Trade Unions] has praised supermarket chain Woolworths for its plans to introduce paid maternity leave entitlements for staff. From next month, women who have held permanent positions for at least two years will be entitled to up to eight weeks' leave at full pay.It is a similar plan to the one introduced by retailer Myer earlier this year.ACTU president Sharan Burrow says she hopes other retailers will follow suit."This is good news, good news for the women, good news for their families of course, but also good news for Woolworths and the economy more broadly, as women are more easily able to return to work knowing that they've had a period of job security," she said."

So, those of you who have it (paid maternity leave) - enjoy it! Whilst those of us who don't, will just have to keep on waiting.

No comments: