Oxfam has launched a virtual maternity protection campaign to raise awareness on challenges women face in the workplace and on female workers’ need to receive maternity benefits.

To commemorate this year’s 135th anniversary of Labour Day, the organisation and partners in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are launching the campaign under the theme “Every Mother Counts”.

In a press release, Oxfam said approximately 90 per cent of women in the labour force in Cambodia cannot access any maternity protection benefits due to their informal status.

Through this campaign, Oxfam and partners aim to engage the public, employers and businesses, national policymakers and ASEAN bodies in discussion about how to ensure that all women workers in Cambodia, especially those in the informal sector, can access maternity protection.

Maternity protection is a fundamental labour and constitutional right, Oxfam country director Solinn Lim said. “It is essential for achieving gender equality, the well-being and health of mothers and children, and equal opportunities and treatment in the labour force.”

According to a 2020 World Bank report, women in their main reproductive years (ages 25-34) are more likely to be overrepresented among the poor.

In Cambodia, this is because women spend 3.5 more hours on average than men performing unpaid care and domestic work, even during pregnancy and maternity and a devastating Covid-19 pandemic.

This means less time to work and earn an income, less ability to save and contribute to social security, and greater vulnerability to chronic poverty and illness for them and their children.

This stated that women had no enough time to work formal jobs and earn income and they had no opportunities to strengthen the capacities. Most informal women workers, however, cannot meet these requirements, as they have no formal employment arrangements, and work too irregularly to afford making regular contributions to social insurance.

Chan Narith, secretary-general of the National Social Protection Council (NSPC), said the organisation strongly acknowledged the importance of maternity protection in addressing gender inequality and in mitigating women’s and household’s vulnerability.

“Maternity protection, especially for poor and vulnerable households, that are currently active within the RGC’s social protection agenda includes the Cash-Transfer Programme for Pregnant Women and Young Children,” he said, adding that NSPC is working to further strengthen the coordination and harmonisation of policies and regulations to ensure that all women in the formal and informal sectors are supported.

Chhun Hak, director-general of Gender Equality and Economic Development at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, said maternity protection is a human value and a fundamental part of gender equality and the care economy. In Cambodia, female labour force participation is steadily growing and the need for maternity protection becomes increasingly critical for everyone’s care.

“The ministry, through the Neary Rattanak V strategic plan 2019-2023, is committed to bringing attention and accountability to this important agenda. We continue working with stakeholders, civil society organisations and the private sector to translate our core value into actions, transforming policies to be more inclusive and creating an environment where women fully exercise their rights and choices,” he said.

Given the challenges of pregnancy and maternity, especially for women workers in the informal sector, Oxfam called on the government to consider better aligning laws and policies with the International Labour Organisation’s Maternity Protection Convention No 183 (2000).

The convention established benchmarks in five core areas – maternity leave; cash and medical benefits; health protection at the workplace for mothers and their children during pregnancy and during breastfeeding; employment protection and non-discrimination; and breastfeeding arrangements.