Maternity leave is a right entitling women to 16 weeks of leave with full wages – as prescribed by the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006. Employers are legally bound to grant workers this time of leave, which can be enjoyed twice in a worker’s lifetime, provided the company has employed them for six months.
The law does not cover management level workers or freelance workers, who are essentially forced to reorganize their working life to accommodate the major needs brought about by a new baby. Despite the legal disparity between those deemed to be ‘workers’ and those who work for themselves, the ultimate result is often similar.
As stated in a report in the Dhaka Tribune, women often simply leave a job because they fear that they will be denied leave entitlements. How can freelancers overcome the lack of recognition of what has come to be recognized as a fundamental right for women the world over?
Seeing Maternity Leave as Part of Your Professional Success
Whether you have your own office and employees or you work in a home office on a freelance basis, you need to see maternity leave as an important way to boost your chances of continuing with your working life a few months after your baby is born.
Previous studies (O’Connel, 1990) found that receiving maternity benefits is the single most important contributor to the probability of a woman returning to the workforce after giving birth. In other words, rather than trudging on and not taking the days you need, paying yourself while you take a break should be seen as an investment in your business or your freelance career.
From the time you learn you are pregnant, you should consider how your tasks can be divided and shared between people in your company, or (if you are freelance) how you can reduce your load or sub-delegate work for a specific number of weeks or months. If your business has made enough profit to allow you to pay yourself for this period, all the better.
If this is not the case or if you work on a freelance basis, clients may be able to wait for a specific period until you are back on the job. When it comes to maternity leave, it is unwise to assume you can ‘soldier on’ without it. Sometimes, unforeseen issues such as preterm birth may mean you will need more free time than you thought.
Another common condition that can complicate your pregnancy and recovery is gestational diabetes, which affects about 9% of moms-to-be. So, in case this happens, don’t allow gestational diabetes to go untreated; set a specific period aside and make sure you put your and your baby’s health first.
Checking if You are Eligible for Special Benefits or Programs
Be proactive when it comes to discovering any programs or initiatives you may be eligible for. Non-profit organizations or associations from abroad fund some, and they may just be a way for you to get by without working for a few vital weeks.
One initiative, called the 1000 Day Journey, aims to provide good health and nutrition for the first 1,000 days of a baby’s life (the Canadian government funds the initiative). The program supports the creation of home gardens and bio-fortified crops and distributes micronutrient powders to children under five, among many other tasks.
Saving in the Months Leading Up to Birth
Once you discover what programs you may be eligible for, work out how to delegate some of your tasks to someone else while still making an income, or stop for a few weeks, saving is key. You need to work out how much you will need to live, cutting down on unnecessary expenses to build a nest to be relied on during your leave.
You should also let clients know you plan on being away for a specified amount of time, as early as possible. This way, you may be able to bring a few projects forward, completing them before your due date to make a larger income before birth.
Bangladesh does not have a great track record in terms of maternity leave, with management-level workers often left in the lurch at this crucial time of life. Despite this fact, women should prioritize leave, saving up beforehand or delegating tasks for a specified number of weeks.
By letting clients know when you plan to return, and letting them know that business will be ‘as usual’ after your leave, you can assure them that this is indeed a short-term hiatus; one that will only enhance your ability and motivation to return to the workforce when you and your baby are ready.