A senior Sharjah royal has called for the UAE’s private sector to extend maternity leave to support working mothers.
Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, chairperson of the Sharjah Baby Friendly Office, said the move will improve the working environment for expectant and new mothers.
Currently, under the UAE labour law, women working in the private sector are entitled to 45 calendar days of maternity leave with fully pay and dedicated breastfeeding hours for 18 months post-delivery.
“Extending maternity leave for the private sector is an essential step to achieving social justice and true women’s empowerment,” Sheikha Bodour said.
“For many women, motherhood is an essential element of life. We cannot truly empower women if we fail to protect maternity,” she added.
Sharjah became the first emirate in the UAE to grant a 90-day maternity leave to government employees more than five years ago.
“The decision was related to our baby friendly project (previously baby friendly emirate campaign) which was launched in 2011, with a view to establishing a healthy life for children and mothers by fostering a culture of breastfeeding in the emirate’s public places,” she said.
“Sharjah’s concerted efforts bore fruit when the emirate was named the world’s first baby-friendly city in 2015 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF.”
Sheikha Bodour added: “There is no doubt that many private sector companies are fully committed to providing a supportive work environment for working mothers, yet there remains a need to expand and continue these efforts to keep up with new challenges facing women in the workplace.
“Adopting the highest standards that safeguard the rights of working mothers will in turn support the nation’s development process and women’s empowerment efforts.”
The UAE government has taken steps to improve gender balance in the workplace, and in late 2016 introduced a new law to extend maternity leave for federal employees from 45 days to 60 days.
Some of the private companies in the region have also introduced longer maternity leave in recent years.