Zambia has made a provision in the country’s labour law that allows female workers to take one day off a month known as Mother’s Day during their menstruation period, even though it applies to all women, whether or not they have children.
The legal definition is not precise – women can take the day when they want and do not have to provide any medical justification, leading some to question the provision.
Women in Zambia do not need to make prior arrangements to be absent from work, but can simply call in on the day to say they are taking Mother’s Day. An employer who denies female employees this entitlement can be prosecuted.
Reacting to the development in an interview with BBC, Ndekela Mazimba, a single lady who takes her Mother’s Day every month because of her grueling period pains said:
“I think it’s a good law because women go through a lot when they are on their menses [periods].
“You might find that on the first day of your menses, you’ll have stomach cramps – really bad stomach cramps. You can take whatever painkillers but end up in bed the whole day.
“And sometimes, you find that someone is irritable before her menses start, but as they progress, it gets better. So, in my case, it’s just the first day to help when the symptoms are really bad.”
Mr. Justin Mukosa, a married man and also an employer, supports the law and says he understands the pressure women face in juggling careers and family responsibilities. He added that the measure can have a positive impact on women’s work: “Productivity is not only about the person being in the office. It should basically hinge on the output of that person.”
He, however, admits that there are problems with the current system in terms of losing staff at short notice and also the temptation for people to abuse the system in the context that maybe an individual might have some personal plans they wish to attend to so she takes Mother’s Day on the day.
The Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the umbrella body representing the country’s workers, is also in support of the law. But the entitlement “would have to be forfeited” if a woman were to take it on a day that she was not on her period, says Catherine Chinunda, national trustee at ZCTU.
Not everyone is so supportive of Mother’s Day, and there are many women among the critics.
Mutinta Musokotwane-Chikopela is married and has three children. She has a full-time marketing job but never takes Mother’s Day, arguing that it encourages laziness in working women.
“I don’t believe in it and I don’t take it. Menses are a normal thing in a woman’s body; it’s like being pregnant or childbirth,” she says.
“I think women take advantage of that, especially that there’s no way of proving that you are on your menses or not.”
Ms. Chikopela says the provision should have been made clearer in the law.
“The problem in Zambia is that we have too many holidays – including a holiday for national prayers. So I guess Mother’s Day makes those that love holidays happy.”
But while praising the concept of Mother’s Day, some argue that the reality is bad for business. The law itself provides no guidance about what is allowed and it would appear that very few, if any, employers have internal policy guidance in that respect.