Reproductive leave should be introduced for miscarriage and IVF
Bill would help open up conversations around reproductive health in Ireland
Women have to take annual leave to recover from the heartache and the physical effects of miscarriage. Photograph: iStock
International Women’s Day has a long and proud history, since its origins in the socialist and labour movements of the US and Germany during the first decade of the 20th century. The designated date of March 8th, formally adopted by the United Nations in 1977, has been marked worldwide in many different ways over the decades. In Ireland, for many years it was a day of protest; a date upon which feminist campaigners would draw attention to the multiple discriminations and injustices faced by women in this country; like our lack of access to contraception, abortion and childcare; the glaring gender pay gap and absence of women in public life.
In more recent years, and particularly since the successful repeal of the Eighth Amendment in 2018, International Women’s Day has become more of a celebration, both for and of women in Ireland. Across different workplaces, employers and firms have recognised it as a good way to acknowledge the immense contribution of female workers. They have started to provide branded cupcakes and power banks; festive bunting in suffragette colours (purple and green in England; green and white in Ireland) has been displayed for the day; office drinks parties and working lunches (remember them?) have also taken place. Last year, in the last week before lockdown, an array of different functions took place to mark what had become a day of joyful socialising.
This year the day will be marked very differently due to Covid-19 restrictions. While offices remain empty and many women in Ireland and elsewhere bear the brunt of the pandemic effect, it is time to return to seeing the day as one for protest and positive action. It is time, in particular, to address the many structural gender equality issues in the workplace that have become increasingly visible as a result of Covid. We know that women are much more likely than men to have to juggle home-schooling while working from home; those women who remain in work as front-line workers often face immense difficulties in accessing childcare; and many more women previously working in hospitality, retail or related sectors remain out of work for the foreseeable future.
Access to leave
Labour has a strong track record on championing women’s rights in the workplace. We put forward the first gender pay gap legislation; we have led on laws to tackle discrimination on grounds of gender, and to adopt gender quotas for Dáil elections; and we were at the forefront over campaigns for women’s right to access contraception and abortion. Today, in keeping with our history, Labour is proposing another measure to advance women’s employment rights, by providing for access to leave for matters relating to reproductive health.
Reproductive health is not perceived as an appropriate topic for watercooler chat.
Many women – and men – are familiar with the devastation that results when a greatly desired or long-awaited pregnancy results in an early miscarriage, but women have to take annual leave to recover from the heartache and the physical effects of this experience.
Many women and men have invested time, money, hopes and dreams in IVF treatment, while taking unpaid leave for extensive medical appointments and related treatments. Traditionally these experiences are never shared in the workplace and thus they remain hidden; reproductive health is not perceived as an appropriate topic for watercooler chat.
A silent ripple is now building throughout Ireland, however, with more and more people speaking about their experiences with the silent sadness of infertility and miscarriage. Research carried out recently by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation found that 60 per cent of their members surveyed had had experience of managing reproductive health-related matters during work time. But currently, employees and their partners are required to use up sick leave or take annual or unpaid leave if they require time off for early miscarriage, or for fertility and other reproductive health-related treatments.
Lack of support
In an Ireland that has now legalised abortion, and in which more conversations are taking place on reproductive health issues, the lack of support for workers experiencing miscarriage and other fertility issues must be addressed. Our reproductive health is not locked in a black box under our beds, it is lived at every moment of every day – even when we are at work.
We know that women are much more likely than men to have to take unpaid leave, or holiday time, in order to deal with reproductive health issues
Labour’s Reproductive Health Related Leave Bill would provide an entitlement to reproductive leave of up to 20 days for workers who suffer a miscarriage, and up to 10 days for those seeking treatments such as IVF. Aside from the practical supports for employees that this Bill would provide if enacted, it would also mark another step towards opening up conversations around reproductive health in Ireland, and information campaigns about the introduction of this new leave entitlement would encourage greater public awareness about this hidden issue.
We know that women are much more likely than men to have to take unpaid leave, or holiday time, in order to deal with reproductive health issues. So while our Bill is gender-neutral, clearly its introduction would represent a real structural change to improve women’s experiences in the workplace. Let’s support businesses and employers in recognising the need to help employees who may be going through immense personal trauma as a result of fertility treatment or early miscarriage. We call on the Government and Opposition parties to support Labour’s legislation and provide for protection of the reproductive health of female workers.