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New maternity scheme for women in informal sector

Wednesday, November 24th, 2021 01:26 | By
National Hospital Insurance Fund headquarters in Upper Hill, Nairobi. Photo/File

It will be a major score for expectant and lactating mothers working in the informal sector if the government adopts a newlyproposed maternity scheme.

The Maternal Income Protection Benefits (MIPB) joins Linda Mama that was initiated by the National Hospital Insurance Fund, which has seen more than one million expectant mothers register for the scheme since inception in 2017.

According to NHIF, which has come up with the latest scheme, MIPB is aimed at cushioning mothers in the informal sector from anxieties associated with poverty.

It is based on the fact that most women in the informal sector are forced to work late into their pregnancies and soon after childbirth.

Targeting about 15 million mothers working in the informal sector – bars, salons, matatus, jua kali, etc, the scheme, once implemented, will see beneficiaries going home with between Sh4,000 to Sh15,000 a month for six months.

“This type of scheme offers an opportunity for mothers to take longer rests and time to take care of their new-born babies,”

NHIF chief executive Dr Peter Kamunyo observed in Nairobi yesterday, at a workshop where stakeholders discussed the proposed scheme.

Work-related stress

Dr Kamunyo said mothers’ bodies are too weak to handle work-related stress, causing long-term health risks to both the mother and the child.

“It is a fact that it is the mothers who are usually the ones who stop working or reduce gainful work to rear their babies.

How can these women be helped; protected?” he posed, explaining to the stakeholders, mostly drawn from the labour and social protection sectors, why it is important for the country to adopt it.

“We have invited you to discuss the viability of introducing a maternity income protection benefit to cushion our mothers against poverty caused by anxiety, mental health issues, food insecurities and increased
household expenditure due to pregnancy and childbirth,” Kamunyo said.

Hot on the heels of Linda Mama, which has recorded significant progress, NHIF has fashioned the innovative programme for pregnant and lactating mothers, who have no maternity protection as paid maternity leave to be provided with income before and after the birth or adoption of a child.

“The innovation supports the government’s initiative of reducing maternal and infant mortality rates,” Kamunyo said.

Proposal draws from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions C183, C102, and C131, which explain maternity income protection as contributing to maternity protection with other integral
elements, such as maternity leave, medical benefits, health protection at the workplace, and employment protection, non-discrimination, and breastfeeding arrangements at work.

Kamunyo said Kenya approached ILO for technical support to work out modalities of implementing the initiative.

“As a result, ILO contracted a consultant to conduct a feasibility study, to guide the design and cost of benefits,” he stated, noting that the findings of a survey done in eight counties informed the proposal.

The consultant began the work in June and in October, he conducted the actual field survey in Mombasa; Kisumu, Machakos, Uasin Gishu, Kajiado, Kiambu, Meru, and Nairobi.

Survey was based on the proportion of NHIF membership and involved data collection on the suitability of introducing maternity income protection.

“Some of our data was also aggregated through Safaricom’s M-Pesa payments and focused on women,” said Marwa Fadhili, the consultant.

The study established that out of the 18 million people in the country’s labour market, three million work in the formal sector, while 15 million are in informal workplaces.

“An estimated 53 per cent are male working in the Jua Kali sector, while 47 per cent were female, mostly, mama mbogas and others working in salons,” he noted.

According to the findings, informal workers usually earn between Sh4,000 and Sh15,000 a month. Mechanics and wielders, the survey noted, are likely to earn more in the informal economy.

The survey found that 64.8 per cent of NHIF members favour the new scheme while 35.8 per cent do not. Survey also established that 82.6 per cent, about 1, 271 respondents, had used Linda Mama services, while 17.4 per cent, around 267 respondents, had not.

Asked about the utilisation of NHIF maternity cover, 1, 287 women, an estimated 83.7 per cent responded affirmatively, while 251, about 16.3 per cent, have not.

“Asked whether it was timely for MIPB to be extended to complement the Linda Mama programme, 98.5 per cent said yes,” he added.

ILO believes that maternity protection is multidimensional and encompasses different components that are of crucial importance from a health, income security and employment protection perspective.

Technical officer

Shana Hohler, ILO technical officer in charge of Social Health Protection in Geneva, noted in a virtual presentation that safeguarding women’s employment and income security during and after maternity is essential for ensuring their access to equality of opportunity and treatment in the workplace, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.

“Maternity protection further ensures effective access to quality maternal health care, thereby contributing to the health and well-being of mothers and their babies,” she said.

Countries such as Brazil, Thailand, and Nicaragua, are already reaping the benefits of the scheme, according to Hohler’s presentation.

Equally, in Africa, several countries including Senegal, Morocco, Namibia and Rwanda, have adopted the scheme. Rwanda made headways in passing maternity social insurance legislation in 2016 and has successfully implemented it.

While endorsing the new scheme, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions,
Federation of Kenya Employers, the Department of Social Protection, Micro and Small Enterprise Authority, and the UN, among others, asked why Kenya was late

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