Finally: officially recognised maternity leave in secondary vocational education

The Minister of Education, Culture and Science announced that she will legislate a formal right to maternity leave for secondary vocational education (mbo)-students. The maternity leave, of which the duration will have a maximum of 16 weeks, will be established as a formal ground for long-term absence.

According to Annemieke de Jong of the Steunpunt Studerende Moeders (Organisation for Support of Mothering Students), this is a victory for all mothering students in the Netherlands: ‘After eleven years of lobbying and campaigning by the Steunpunt, mothering students finally receive a formal right to maternity leave’.

Along with the Public Interest Litigation Project (PILP), test case fund Clara Wichmann, FNV Vrouw, the Dutch Women’s Council and the Vereniging voor Vrouw en Recht (Union for Women and Rights), the Steunpunt Studerende Moeders formed the ‘coalition Mothering Students’. Led by the PILP, this coalition discussed problems experienced by mothering students with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science since 2015. During these discussions, the coalition underlined the Minister’s responsibility to protect the human rights of mothering and pregnant students.

According to Merel Hendrickx of the PILP, this is an important decision for the protection of human rights: ‘Without a formal right to maternity leave for mothering students, their capability to access education is hindered, as well as their capability to obtain a graduate certificate. This is in violation of the right to education of these mothers. Moreover, this is a form of sex-based discrimination, since only women can be disadvantaged by this.’

Recent research by Anja Eleveld et al. of the Vrije Universiteit, in which they researched legislation and regulations for pregnant students and students with childcare in secondary vocational education and tertiary education, shows that an educational institution violates the prohibition of discrimination if this institution has not incorporated any provisions for pregnant and studying mothers.

The coalition Mothering Students is pleased by these developments, but also thinks that more change will be necessary to protect the human rights of mothering and pregnant students, to begin with a formal maternity leave for college-students and university-students. Furthermore, a great responsibility lies with the educational institutions, which entails for instance the duty to offer flexible internship-programs and nursing rooms.

Annemieke de Jong stated: ‘We still have a long way to go. Having children and taking care of them should not obstruct the possibility to follow an education. It would be a shame if these women would be forced to quit their education and as a consequence cannot achieve economic independence. Furthermore, the education-level should be of no concern in this matter. The Steunpunt still receives many complaints from college-students and university-students. That is why we will continue.’
The coalition Mothering Students will therefore pay attention to further developments, but celebrates this important event.