ILO celebrates 100 years of maternity protection

Exactly 100 years ago, the first steps were taken to ensure the protection of pregnant women at work. The Maternity Protection Convention was adopted by the International Labour Conference in November 1919. It was the first-ever gender equality international labor standard. The Convention recognizes the right to paid leave in relation to childbirth with employment protection. Maternity protection was one of the primary concerns of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The year 2019 is a special year not only because of the centennial of Zonta International. We also celebrate the creation of the ILO and the adoption of the Maternity Protection Convention. Even more special is that the Convention was adopted in November 1919, the month of Zonta’s creation.

The Maternity Protection Convention of 1919

The Maternity Protection Convention, 1919 (No. 3) laid out the basic principles of maternity protection: the right to maternity leave, the right to medical benefits, and the right to income replacement during leave. The right to leave was reinforced by the explicit prohibition of dismissal during a woman’s absence on maternity leave or at such time that the notice would expire during such absence. Employment security was thus seen as a vital aspect of maternity protection from the start.

Maternity Protection is absolutely crucial for women’s economic and social rights around childbirth.  The aim of the 1919 Convention is two-fold:

1.      to preserve the health of the mother and her newborn

2.      to provide job and income security.

Maternity Protection was among the first core items of the ILO and has always been a central ILO concern.  The Convention was adopted by the governments, employers and trade unions of the member States at the initial International Labour Conference in 1919, very rapidly after the creation of the ILO.  This major achievement was the result of strong advocacy, including during the Women’s Labour Congress in 1919.

At the time of the adoption of the Convention, no nation in the world met the new ILO standard. European and Latin American countries began signing onto the Convention in the 1920s and 1930's. After World War II, many Asian and some newly independent African nations followed suit, according to The New York Times.

Click below to read the full report from Els Van Winckel, main representative of the Zonta International United Nations Committee, Geneva.

Full report