11/10/2016 12:07 BST | Updated 07/10/2017 06:12 BST

The Importance Of Protecting Maternity

Maternity protection costs - it can cost governments and businesses, but without it (as the world stands now) we run the risk of excluding half the population from the workforce, which is far more costly. The idea of maternity protection can appear quite abstract, it did to me the first time I heard the term, perhaps even more so if you aren't a mother. However, it really is quite simple stuff, it's about maternity leave, childcare, breast feeding, it's about being able to attend prenatal appointments, it's about paternity leave, it's about abortion and birth control and it's definitely about pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

Maternity protection is just one element that could help empower women, as in most of the world parenting and care duties are left to the women. At a workshop in Malaysia over the summer participants heard about best practices in maternity protection such as shuttle services taking children from play school and primary to after school clubs, but for the most part parents still rely on extended family for child care. In London, child care can cost a wage and it appears little is being done help women stay in work. In Europe we enjoy a reasonable amount of maternity leave - what will happen once we BREXIT is uncertain. In the UK there is an extreme gap between the legal provision of paternity and maternity leave, which must be closed if we are to ever achieve equality. In Tunisia a lack of protection for pregnant working women (among other factors) has meant that very few married women work, which has obvious implication for female empowerment.

A lack of protection for pregnant working women emerges at its most extreme as discrimination, that's right women get the sack just because they are pregnant. In Malaysia the human rights lawyer Honey Tan recently won a landmark case for breach of constitutional right to gender equality after the government refused to employ a temporary teacher when she became pregnant . The case of Noorfadilla shows that not everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, or to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment, as demanded by Article 23.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Noorfadilla was not the first woman to be discriminating against due to pregnancy in Malaysia (or the world). In fact prior to this case, it had been argued that Malaysia Airlines was operating contrary to The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) by discriminating against pregnant employees. Just as Noorfadilla was not the first Malaysian woman to be discriminated against, Malaysia Airlines is not the first airline to receive criticism concerning their treatment of female employees. In 2011 British Airways were attacked over sexist and discriminatory practices and more recently female pilots have taken legal action against Frontier airlines. Even the International Labour Organization produced a scathing report regarding the discriminatory employment practices of Qatar airlines .

There is a lack of information out there for consumers who can afford to use 'ethical airlines', which leads me to think that they are few and far between, but boycotts would suggest that there is demand. Sadly, It is unsurprising that many airlines might be failing to safeguard human rights for their employees, as many are notorious for archaically sexist attitudes towards their staff , it is not however OK.

This post was possible due attendance at: Advancing Maternity Protection in Malaysia - Meeting Social Welfare and Business Needs, and Contributing to Economic Development (British Council Grant, WK 204154386)