The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) is a global network of individuals
& organisations concerned with the protection, promotion & support of breastfeeding worldwide.
WABA action is based on the Innocenti Declaration, the Ten Links for Nurturing the Future and the
Global Strategy for Infant & Young Child Feeding. WABA is in consultative status with UNICEF & an NGO
in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC).

Women And Work


The issue of Women and Work is about enabling women to successfully combine their reproductive and productive roles. It is a health issue, an economic issue, a labour issue, and a human rights issue. Today, more and more women of child-bearing age are working outside the household, in work that keeps them far from home for long hours and with rigid schedules. Increasingly, women are seen as independent economic units, responsible for their own economic survival and well-being. According to the United Nations Development Programme, women are responsible for 53% of the world’s total working hours, compared to 47% for men. While 75% of men’s work is paid, only about a third of women’s work is rewarded with cash. Since the definition of economic activity often excludes unpaid work such as subsistence agriculture, housework and child care etc., the actual figures for women at work are greater. Time-use studies have shown that women spend more time in work overall, spend fewer hours in paid work and in general have less discretionary time than men do. Women spend more time than men doing unpaid care work and housework, with multiple and overlapping activities, such as childcare, cooking and cleaning. Economic value of women’s contribution is low in the national economy and reproductive work is not adequately counted in the GNP of most countries. Economic value of breastmilk (women’s contribution to the first food) is also not counted. Women's dual roles as workers (productive) and mothers (reproductive) need to be respected and accommodated by society. Child- bearing and lactation are biological functions that only women can assume. Women should be able to engage in paid work and other work and still care for children and breastfeed. However, increasing urbanisation and dislocation of the extended family have weakened these mechanisms of social support to enable mother and baby to rest and recover together. This has also resulted in no or little social recognition for equity measures to support mothers, especially breastfeeding mothers.


Women are not only affected as part of the family and as a disadvantaged group of society, but also as a result of their position in the sexual division of work. The fact that women are responsible for looking after the family requires women to work harder in low-paying, menial jobs in order to compensate for the reduction of social welfare. Subsequently, women are forced to absorb program cuts by working harder, often for reduced incomes. Women who work in the formal sector are covered by laws, regulations, and collective bargaining agreements (CBA). These women are usually employed in jobs which offer regular wages and hours on which income taxes must be paid. Family responsibilities make women more vulnerable to the precarious job market, since they usually have to accept lower quality jobs, with less labour protection and social security, in order to have the flexibility they need to fulfill their domestic responsibilities. This situation has led to many women around the world opting to work in the informal economy than in the formal economy usually under worse conditions and with less protection either as workers or as breastfeeding mothers. The informal sector is broadly characterised as consisting of units engaged in the production of goods or services with the primary objective of generating employment and incomes to the persons concerned. These units typically operate at a low level of organisation, with little or no division between labour and capital as factors of production and on a small scale. Labour relations - where they exist - are based mostly on casual employment, kinship or personal and social relations rather than contractual arrangements with formal guarantees. The informal economy is more flexible than the formal workplace, but lacks security.


Care work consists of unpaid care for family members and friends, as well as paid care for others. As reproductive labour, care work is necessary to the continuation of every society. Breastfeeding (the behaviour) and lactation (the physiological function of making milk) constitute a type of care work that is unique to women. Mother and child function as a biological unit; the mother’s hormonal, nutritional, and immune systems are physically linked with her child’s through their shared activity of feeding. A gender-equitable division of labour would recognise and accommodate the unique nature of the care work that lactating women do. In order for women to advance their enjoyment of all rights in general, it is essential that the contribution that women make to the economy, both in terms of paid work, and unpaid work in the home or elsewhere, is recognised, supported in multiple ways and compensated monetarily. Social reproduction cannot just be an individual responsibility of the parents or family. It is the collective responsibility of the state, employers and society at large. In general, protection is guaranteed through maternity protection legislation. Maternity benefits are basic human rights for women.

For WABA and its partners, the concept of maternity protection is broader than just a few legal provisions, it includes various ways that the workload of childbearing women from all work sectors can be adjusted to accommodate childcare and breastfeeding. For instance family and community members need to prioritise breastfeeding in relation to women’s domestic or community work. Employers need to consider the indirect benefits of breastfeeding – healthier children, less absenteeism, and happier mothers. WABA also stresses the need to develop creative support for women in the informal sector since the great majority of these workers have no formal protection or support systems.


The International Labour Organization (ILO) regulates a wide range of international labour issues through standards that are contained in Conventions and Recommendations adopted by the International Labour Conference. Conventions are like international treaties; once ratified, they create specific, binding obligations on governments. The 1919 Convention Number 3 of the International Labour Organization provides international standards on maternity protection for women employed in industry and commerce; it calls for 12 weeks of maternity leave with cash benefits and prohibition of dismissal and one hour per day breastfeeding breaks. In 1952, this was revised to (Convention 103) include women workers at home and provide for higher protection: 12 weeks maternity leave, higher cash benefits including remunerated breastfeeding breaks and more employment security.

The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) states "Parties shall prohibit, subject to the imposition of sanctions, dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity leave ... shall introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment, seniority and social allowances" . In June 2000, ILO Convention 183 and Recommendation 191 were adopted by 304 countries and came into force in February 2002. The new Convention provides an increase from 12 to 14 weeks maternity leave.


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