When And Where Its A Crime To Be Pregnant

She is pregnant. A middle manager and mother of a two-year-old in her early 30s, she was scared at first to tell her boss, because she was afraid it would affect the promotion she's due. Worse, she has applied for a job one level over, but somehow completely has no confidence she will get it.
Last week this woman, who we'll call Jasmine, told all woman that she has applied and is still waiting. "This is a demanding year at work. I fear I won't be considered because of the pregnancy. It may be all in my head but I think there is a real risk."
She said she saw another job advertised and called them up."I spoke frankly with them, and the human resources person advised me that it was best for me to focus on my pregnancy at this time. It was kind advice, not malicious at all. I was speaking with him in terms of how enlightened we were in Jamaica and whether we would be ready to accept this as a norm - that is hiring someone who was pregnant.
He pointed out that if it were that the skills I had were particularly hard to come by, then I'd have negotiating power. So I guess it depends on your profession."
Keisha Regross 20, is pregnant with her first child. A high school dropout, she has worked in various places including a wholesale downtown, waitressing, babysitting and now stacking shelves in a Kingston supermarket.
She's worried.
"My supervisor saw the belly and asked how old it was, then she told me that I couldn't pack after I reach six months. That's in two months. Then she said that she don't know how I manage to go do that, because I should have sense to know that I can't pack shelf with a big belly and no more jobs are there."She says that while not outrightly stating that she will lose her job afterwards, her supervisor continually drops hints that she won't be there much longer, and when plans are being made - like plans for the Easter party, she's conspicuously left out.
At a recent rally put on by the CEDAW Advocacy Committee in recognition of International Women's Day, stories were shared of women working in wholesales and as domestic helpers who were not afforded things like maternity leave or who were replaced promptly as they got pregnant. And it's not only there.
Even more women higher up on the social ladder can share stories of not being afforded any privileges when they got pregnant.Tanisha Wright was working at a trust company in the Cayman Islands two years ago when she decided to return home. She applied for a job as a management trainee at one of the local financial institutions, did the first interview and a few days later found out she was pregnant. Two weeks later, she got confirmation that she'd been hired, but when she explained her status, the offer was withdrawn.
"There was a time in Jamaica when people would be dismissed as soon as the belly started to show. Sometime they don't tell you that's the reason, they find a nice little excuse and they tell you go. And it even happens now," Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers General Secretary Helene Davis Whyte told women at the rally. "Some people don't want to consider that they'll have to pay you, and somebody else to work for you, so they find an excuse."
The Maternity Leave Act is applicable to all women working in Jamaica and specifies an employee's - someone who has been continuously employed for not less than 52 weeks - qualification for maternity leave.Women are entitled to a maximum of 12 weeks off, and qualify for a maximum of three maternity leaves by each employer. If a woman suffers a miscarriage after 28 weeks of pregnancy, she is also entitled to leave.
Jamaica Employers Federation Chief Executive Officer Jacqueline Coke-Lloyd, in a written response to all woman questions on employers' policy relating to hiring pregnant women, states that the JEF "recognises pregnancy to be the right of every woman, and firmly advocate the granting of all rights and privileges entitled to the employee."
"We are guided by the principles relating to maternity entitlement as is outlined in the Labour Laws of Jamaica specifically the Maternity Leave Act," Coke-Lloyd said. "A question which may be challenged is that of employing a pregnant woman in a post in which there is an open vacancy. The determination of a company to hire a female who is pregnant or not, should not be premised on the individual's state of pregnancy, but rather the fit for the job."
She added: "There have been allusions to the effect that pregnancy affects productivity and as such that companies discriminately employ persons who are beyond child bearing age or ideally men. Whereas this may be a fact in some instances, it is definitely not the norm in terms of practice. There is no question about the invaluable contributions women have made to the world of work.
This level of contribution has not been statistically proven to have declined with the birth of a child or children, but in fact has contributed significantly to women being able to manage more effectively. Research shows that over 70 per cent of persons in management in Jamaica are women of childbearing age."
Checks with corporate Jamaica show a move, at least in theory, towards this recognition of women's "invaluable contribution".Corporate giant GraceKennedy says it has no policy regarding the hiring of pregnant women.
"It is quite simple, we do not have a policy against this but she would not be qualified for maternity leave as stated by law," James Moss-Solomon, chief corporate affairs officer, said. "It would be the woman's choice to decide whether or not she would want the job if she is pregnant and if the HR manger sees that she is qualified. Pregnancy is a normal part of humanity and we have no discrimination at all against it."But how seriously is a woman's role taken though?
"Although more women are employed, only a minority of the employed labour force are women," Davis-Whyte said, explaining that women are often directed towards "nurturing positions". "Women are employed in low paying jobs all across the world. In terms of proportionate numbers you hear that more women are graduating from the universities, but when you look in the workforce, it's still far more men than women at the higher levels,and they have reserved the areas that they deem not to be important for us."
And so: "Some of us when we enter the workplace we try to make believe that we are same as the men. We dress like a man, we don't want anybody to think us less than a man. But there are some obligations that we have as women and a lot of these are family obligations that we need to fulfil.
Provisions should be made for women to sustain the family status."She listed her own experience years ago, when she had her daughter and was back at work within four days. "I needed the job, I wasn't working long enough for maternity leave. All the research tells you the importance of breastfeeding and the need for mother and child to bond. In some parts of the world there are campaigns around the time given for a woman to breastfeed at work. In more forward countries like Scandinavia it actually happens. Those are countries where women are in command. There's nothing to suggest that we can't get there."
For some women, "getting there" isn't such a far off concept."My friend also told me though that her firm - a medium sized construction/housing development company hired an accounting officer in her fifth month and allowed her to go off on maternity leave but she had to promise that she would not abandon the job," Jasmine said. "So I guess there are still various perspectives on it."
And added Moreen Marks, vice-president of risk management at the Insurance Company of the West Indies Limited, and the only female on the executive team: "What I did was, when I needed to work beyond office hours, I would take the work home and while my son was doing homework I would sit with him and do office work. I continued this until he was in high school."
Marks says she felt no form of discrimination when she was pregnant with her son, in fact, she made certain that her family life did in no way affect her work and vice versa.She explained that even on business trips she made every effort not to be away from her family for more than five days. On one occasion, when she attended a training course in Zurich for 10
weeks, she took her young son and a babysitter at her own expense, as leaving him for such an extended period was not an option.Marks noted that the only difficulty she faced was the suggestion of early morning meetings, "but I simply reminded them that unlike them, I have domestic responsibilities."
Said Coke-Lloyd: "Pregnancy is integral in ensuring the sustenance of livelihood. An organisation which discriminates against women who are pregnant or prohibits pregnancy among its female employees is one with little or no vision of the future."


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