A birth is always an occasion for momentous celebration and joy. When Sepe Livae gave birth to her seventh child, Annmary Elsawood Livae, on July 22, 2022, it marked a milestone for female state workers of Kosrae. Sepe became the first woman in Kosrae to enjoy the benefits of a newly passed State law which allows all female government employees to take paid maternity leave of up to 90 days.
“I have a total of 7 children, 5 boys and 2 girls. I noticed that this child of mine is much healthier and chubbier compared with my other children. I have had more time with this child to nurture her, feed her and be with her until she became strong,” Sepe shared.
Sepe who works as a secretary at the Kosrae Department of Resources and Economy explained that the two children she bore before Annmary were not as healthy. She attributes the good health and well-being of her youngest child to the extended period of maternity leave she was able to take.
Seeing the difference with this change, Sepe now realises the 90-day maternity leave provision is critical not only for her recuperation from childbirth but also for the care and nurturing of her newborn child.
Prior to the passage of the new State law for female government workers, Sepe and other women working in the public service who had delivered children were only eligible to take up to 30 days from their annual and sick leave provisions to accommodate for recuperation after childbirth, placing a significant burden on mother and child.
Legislation changes ensure Kosrae women get paid maternity care
Kosrae’s new State Law No 12-286 allows for paid maternity leave of up to 90 days to be applied to all female state government employees, regardless of employment status or contractual arrangements.
The law, addressing public sector employees, paves the way to the adoption of similar measures for private sector employees and hopes to lead similar conversations in other FSM states.
The Utwe Women Organisation, a grassroots women’s NGO which received a grant in 2022 from the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Pacific People Advancing Change Programme (PPAC) played a key role in advocating and voicing the needs rights of women and children in Kosrae to ensure equal access and right to health for all. The PPAC grant was to Utwe Women Organisation and was supported by UN Women through the EU Spotlight Initiative, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Promoting Just, Engaged, Civic-Minded and Transparent (PROJECT) Governance programme, and the Governments of Sweden and Australia.
According to Krystle Melander, project manager for Utwe Women Organization, she realised there was a need for paid maternity care when she was pregnant. She was told that she will not be eligible for maternity leave and would need to take either her annual leave or her sick leave to care for her newborn.
“Before I was a teacher, and at the time teachers were contract employees therefore I wasn’t eligible for maternity leave. At the time, I knew that this was a problem for Kosrae to fix but it took me years to find PPAC which helped greatly. That is what inspired me to advocate for this change in law,” Krystle said.
“When we received the grant from PPAC, we ensured that we use it to voice the rights of women for paid maternity care which should be a basic provision for all women here in Kosrae,” she added.
Krystle shared that the first thing the Utwe Women’s Organisation did was to give training on advocacy and campaigning skills.
“We first raised awareness among our own women and community members about the maternity law before we advocated it to the legislature’s office,” Krystle said.
After the passing of the maternity law in 2022, at least 4 mothers from Kosrae have already benefited from the change.
“After the bill was passed, around 4 women from Kosrae have managed to use the maternity leave benefits and have informed me how helpful it has been to them and their newborn child,” Krystle said.
Senator Yamado Melander, Chairman, R&D Committee 12th Kosrae State Legislature said:
“UTWE Women’s Organisation advocated for women’s rights to paid leave because no one else was doing it on their behalf, and they were the ones paying the consequences of such negligence.”
“While the bottom-up approach is advancing the rights of women, it is society as a whole who is reaping the benefits of the advancement of human rights”, he concluded.
Despite the great strides we have made for women’s equity across the world, there remain some parts of the world including the Pacific where progress is slow. However, the legal reform advancement in Kosrae for maternity leave provisions for female state employees is a cause for celebration for women everywhere this 2023 International Women’s Day.