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News: Rights groups criticize draft directive limiting maternity leave for female students

During a press conference held on 30 November, 2023, representatives from 10 rights and advocacy organizations denounced a new Ministry of Education draft directive that limits maternity leave for students to just 15 days after giving birth (Photo: EWLA/Facebook)

Addis Abeba – A group of 10 rights and advocacy organizations, including the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) and the Network of Ethiopian Women’s Associations (NEWA), have released a statement condemning a recent Ministry of Education draft directive that restricts maternity leave for primary and secondary female students to 15 days after giving birth before they are suspended from their academic program. The organizations argue that this limit violates women’s constitutional rights to education and equality.

The controversial draft directive, which is part of a new set of guidelines the Ministry is planning to introduce, states that a female student can only be absent for 15 consecutive school days in reference to maternity.

The coalition argues that this clause severely violates women’s constitutional right to equality in the social, economic, and political spheres, including the realm of education. They believe that the draft directive goes against the constitution of Ethiopia as well as national and international laws that protect women’s health, access to family planning resources, and freedom from discrimination during pregnancy and childbirth.

During an interview with Addis Standard, Betelhem Degu, a program manager at the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, emphasized that the constitution of Ethiopia explicitly states that individuals requiring special treatment should be given specific actions suitable for their particular circumstances. “Punishing women by limiting their access to education due to their pregnancy is not only unfair but also contradicts the principles outlined in both the country’s constitution and international law.”

In their statement, the groups highlight that denying adequate maternity leave places an unfair burden on women who are trying to balance their education and motherhood responsibilities. They argue that it undermines the inclusive approach promoted to expand educational opportunities regardless of gender.

Instead of introducing supportive measures, the coalition asserts that the proposed policy directly hinders women’s ability to fully participate in and contribute to society through the pursuit of higher education degrees.

To address the issue, they have called on the Ministry of Education to engage in consultation with civil society and reconsider the contentious aspects of the draft directive. They have also urged the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Women and Children, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, and other relevant bodies to apply pressure through advocacy and oversight.

Recently, Amelework Hezekiel, director of communication at the Ministry of Education, clarified that the directive is still in its preliminary draft stage and has not yet been implemented. She also acknowledged that the individuals responsible for drafting the guidelines have encountered various opinions, highlighting that the draft is currently undergoing multiple processes in preparation for its ultimate finalization. AS

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