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An open letter to the Prime Minister, Andrew Holness

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May 2, 2020

Subject: Maternity Leave

Dear Prime Minister:

I am in support of Professor Marvin Reid’s motion to extend maternity leave from Twelve (12) weeks to Twenty-six (26) weeks. The Maternity Leave Act of 1979 as it stands is archaic and should be revised. The stipulation of the act does not take into consideration the health of the baby and mother. According to the Act a woman is entitled to twelve (12) weeks of Maternity Leave, out of which she only receives pay for eight (8) weeks. This is not acceptable. This Act is laced with sexist and colonial undertones. While I commend the Member of Parliament (MP) for West Rural St Andrew, Mrs. Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn’s initiative to amend the Maternity Leave Act, for women to receive full payment for the twelve (12) weeks; it is necessary to revise the Act to also include a longer Maternity leave period. This is necessary for the physical health and emotional well-being of the mother and child. A longer Maternity Leave period has been proven to be beneficial for a country’s economy, productivity and society.
According to Dr. Sasha Turner in her book, Contested Bodies: Pregnancy, Childrearing, and Slavery in Jamaica, she notes that the “Overworked, abused, and malnourished, enslaved women did not birth enough children to replace the many workers” and this is still evident today as reported by Mrs. Nadine Wilson-Harris in a Gleaner article entitled, “Maternity Leave Under Threat – Women Jeopardised By Short-Term Contracts” in which she writes that “According to the State of the World Population 2018 report, Jamaica’s fertility rate has fallen from three children per woman to two. A total fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman is needed for a country to replace each generation.” In relation to this report it should be noted that women in the workforce increases labour supply, monitors the level of compensation and boost wealth. This being said, it would be feasible to aim for a coherence of sufficient women employment and high fertility as it provides for a sustainable society.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends mothers worldwide to exclusively breastfeed infants for the child’s first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Additionally, various researches have proven that when a mother has time to bond with their child, it promotes the somatic and psychological health of the mother, it promotes breastfeeding, and it diminishes the hazard of caesarian births, and may even save the child’s life. It is imperative for women to be able to take time off before and after the birth of their child. As a father, I am sure you are aware that during this period most mothers are sleep deprived as result of the unanticipated feeding and sleeping behaviour of the infant. In an online article written by Nicola Davis published by The Guardian untitled, “New parents face up to six years of sleep deprivation, study says data from thousands of men and women shows rest is at its worst three months after birth.” The result of sleep deprivation can lead to postpartum depression, increased levels of anxiety, inability to breastfeed, headaches, exhaustion and emotional strain. All these negative side effects do not facilitate a healthy bond between a mother and her child, which is very important. The positive effects of a healthy bond between a mother and child can result in that child being able to foster healthy relationships with others. It has also been proven that it aids in the development of the emotional intelligence of the child which will make them more equip to handle difficult situations. It is equally important to mention that a healthy bond between mother and child improves a child’s mental and lexical development which subsequently enables a child to be sociable and even perform better academically.
I believe that more can be done to help the women of this nation when it comes to Maternity Leave. I urge you to review the Act and make the necessary amendments as it is not only beneficial to the mothers but also to the nation. I look forward to your favourable response on this crucial issue.

Sincerely,

Ramona O’Meally

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