Featured Storyteller

NIGERIA: I Was Fired for Being Pregnant

Mary Ero
Posted February 21, 2017 from Nigeria

In Nigeria, women are entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave. But when Mary Ero asked for time off, her company refused.

“There was no renegotiation of my contract; the company wanted a pregnant woman out.

In 2009, while 6 months pregnant, I was fired from my job at a multinational media house. My maternity leave, and by extension, my pregnancy, was the core issue of contention.

Here is how it happened:

My supervisor was based in South Africa and I in Nigeria. The week before I was fired, he asked me why I was attending antenatal clinic on Tuesdays for the whole day. He told me that when his sister was pregnant she would attend clinic and return to work after only a few hours away.

I explained to him that we had a different system in Nigeria where women had the whole day off for these classes.

What I could not explain, however, was that I was attending clinic in the cheaper public hospital where I was among scores of women waiting all day to see the only doctor on staff. Or that on clinic day I also had to receive treatment for HIV in another private facility. I did not think it was my supervisor’s concern, nor did I think it mattered to him.

What followed was an email discussion about my maternity leave. He informed me that, should I choose to take it, it would be unpaid. This baffled and worried me equally. Was I supposed to give birth in the office, or take just one day off to give birth and come back to work the next? Of course, that would not have been possible. Women need time both before and after delivery to look after their own well-being and that of their new baby.

I thought I was lucky that the renegotiation and renewal of my employment contract was coming up soon, and so I decided that I would bring up the matter again at that time. My supervisor offered to renegotiate my contract with Human Resources staff on my behalf. It seemed a good idea at the time as they were both in South Africa and could have a face-to-face discussion.

I told him I wanted a 10% increase in salary based on the Vice President’s appraisal of my performance and some time off. He got back to me almost immediately and asked if it would be a deal breaker if Human Resources offered me the same salary as before and the same terms of employment that included no time off at all.

I told him that, yes, it would be. I thought he was just trying to be sure of what I wanted before the negotiation, and I really needed the time off.

How he replied shook me to my roots: “It was nice working with you,” his next email read. I was stunned.

It was later I realized that I had been set up. There was no renegotiation of my contract with Human Resources; the company wanted a pregnant woman out.

In Nigeria, by law,all women are entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave, during which they must receive, at minimum, 50% of their regular wages. In addition, the labor laws require employers to provide women workers with at least one hour each day to nurse their children.

At privately owned enterprises, however, labor laws are not enforced. Employers in the private sector are permitted to formulate their own policies and entitlements with respect to maternity benefits. Discrimination against women is often the result.

For example, in private organizations, women are often required to take pregnancy tests before they are hired to ensure they are not pregnant. Thereafter, they must sign agreements that state they will not become pregnant for two years after first being hired. In some cases pregnant women are compelled to resign from their private sector jobs and reapply after giving birth.

Shortly after I had been fired from my job for being pregnant, I faced yet another threat to my reproductive rights—this time within the health system. The public hospital where I was going to give birth had a serious issue with my single marital status.

When I went through the registration process at the hospital, staff were reluctant to enter my name as “Miss” and asked intrusive and unnecessary questions about my “husband”. In fact, there were parts of the registration I could not complete because I had no husband.

For instance, Nigerian hospitals required patients’ spouses to donate blood as a way of maintaining their blood bank inventory. When I could not provide a man to give blood in my stead, my registration process was stalled.

To get approval for cesarean surgery, I literally had to bring in a male friend of a friend—someone I did not know personally—to stand in for me and authorize the procedure.

It did not matter that I had my mother with me to authorize all procedures required; they wanted a man beside me.

I believe that the barriers to women’s reproductive health and rights that I’ve recounted here stem from a deep-seated disrespect of women’s rights in general in Nigeria, both at the individual and community level.

It is not enough to pay lip service to gender equality while statutory, cultural, and religious practices continue to suppress women’s rights and oppress us. Stronger provisions and enforcement of lawson gender equality are needed.

It is my fervent prayer that in 2017, we, Nigerian women, will come together with all the powers at our disposal to jolt our society into upholding our sexual and reproductive rights.


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How to Get Involved

Do you relate to Mary Ero's story? Mary would like to hear your story as well as your ideas for how we can collectively put a stop to discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace. Use the comments section to dialogue and connect about this important issue!

Comments 23

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Ohis Samson Amu
Feb 22, 2017
Feb 22, 2017

Be bold and stand against bias and inequality.....nice one Mary and proud of you

Adanna
Feb 22, 2017
Feb 22, 2017

Dear Mary,

Thank you for sharing your story and I am sorry about what you went through both at work and in the hospital.

No woman deserves to be treated like that.

I do hope that more women can find the courage to speak out.

Thanks for speaking out sister!

Mary Ero
Mar 02, 2017
Mar 02, 2017

Thank you, Adanna, for your kind words. I share your hope that more women speak up about this. That is the only way we can stem this dangerous trend.

Anne D.
Feb 22, 2017
Feb 22, 2017

I’m so sorry this happened to you, Mary. No one should have to go through that. And it’s too common a story in many places around the world. Governments, employers and health care facilities should all be supporting women. Instead, women’s sexual and reproductive rights are often being eroded.  You’re so right that stronger laws and better enforcement are crucial.  

Mary Ero
Mar 02, 2017
Mar 02, 2017

Thank you Anne D. It is sad that this is commonplace but we must keep fighting it.

LillianVB
Feb 23, 2017
Feb 23, 2017

Dear Maryero, what an unfortunate situation you had to endure. Your story is inspiring and gives hope to many faced with similar situations to speak up. What is important is that you stood up for yourself even if your actions were abused. I see that this situation has made you a stronger and better person.

good luck in your endeavours!

Mary Ero
Mar 02, 2017
Mar 02, 2017

Thank you very much Lilian.

Amie Newman
Feb 23, 2017
Feb 23, 2017

I am so sorry this happened to you, Mary. The injustice is unacceptable and it's why we all, women everywhere, must continue to fight with and for each other and our rights. 

Mary Ero
Mar 02, 2017
Mar 02, 2017

Absolutely unnacceptable, Amie. Thank you

JOY Eze
Feb 25, 2017
Feb 25, 2017

Though this is a sad story , you do not  have to give up .you  just have to speak up for your self and other women in same situation.

Jasmine Linabary
Feb 26, 2017
Feb 26, 2017

Dear Mary,

It is so disheartening to hear how you were treated both by your place of work and the healthcare system. Thank you for sharing your story. It's important that experiences like yours are shared so people can know about the reality of women's experiences.

You are right that not just stronger laws but better enforcement of the laws is needed, which can seem like a daunting task. Where do you think is the best place to start?

In solidarity,

Jasmine 

Mary Ero
Mar 02, 2017
Mar 02, 2017

I think a very necessary first step is having more people speak about this As it is now, it is only spoken of in hushed tones and in secret. This has to stop.

Terry Shiundu
Feb 27, 2017
Feb 27, 2017

Hi Mary,

Thank you for sharing your story. I think its really unfortunate that labour laws do not apply equally for all employees. We have had the same concerns as a company being that we have an office and several staff employed in Nigeria. I believe as you and the women in Nigeria continue to raise your voice, they will eventually be heard, someone will pay attention and ensure that women rights are upheld, especially job security. The law should apply whether one works in Government or private sector. Probably HR leaders could rally behind women and enforce this as well. 

It is my hope and prayer that with time, some day, the discrimination will end.

Blessings,

Terry

Mary Ero
Mar 02, 2017
Mar 02, 2017

I think HR are the major culprits in this issue and the change must start from higher up.

Thank you for your comment, Terry

Sahra Ahmed Koshin
Feb 27, 2017
Feb 27, 2017

I’m so sorry this happened to you dear Mary. No one should have to go through that. You are a strong woman. Please continue writing about this. I am so proud of you. 

Much love from Somalia. 

Sahro 

Mary Ero
Mar 02, 2017
Mar 02, 2017

Thank you Sahro. It can only get better

Austina
Mar 01, 2017
Mar 01, 2017

Dear Mary,

I totally relate with your story having passed through nearly the same process of humiliation in the public hospital that you went through, in my case I had to take along my younger brother who donated the blood and stood in as my husband to fill the forms!

I stand with you on this. Women must be free to make their choices (especially in this 21st Century) and to stand by them without being discriminated upon, whatever their status might be!

Keep the flag flying dear. You have my support.

Blessings to you and your child(ren)

Mary Ero
Mar 02, 2017
Mar 02, 2017

I am so grateful and happy that you can corroborate my story, Austina. For people unused to such treatment it could sound very incredible. Thanks for your kind words.

vitalis ogola
Mar 02, 2017
Mar 02, 2017

thanks austina that is a great encouragement

Julia O
Mar 06, 2017
Mar 06, 2017

Dear Mary, 

I read your riveting story with apprehension and at some times disbelief. Your story just kept getting more unfair to you, to your unborn baby, and to women and advocates for gender equality across Nigeria. I hope that possibly some things have improved in the 8 years since you've had your baby. I hope you have found other employment in a place that values you and your work and contributions. I cannot believe you had to have a man you did not know well authorize your c-section. Do those kinds of rules still exist? It's frustrating to see the barriers women face across the world in simple, routine things in which there should be no barriers. You have certainly enlightened me, and inspired me by your resolution and conviction about why this was unfair and wrong. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I hope you and your child are both well.  Best wishes,

Julia 

anetrgt
Mar 08, 2017
Mar 08, 2017

Dear Mary,

Thank you for having the voice and courage to share your story.   As I read your experience I became extremely sad and angry for what you were put though by your employer and the hospital. I hope that your words and the sharing of your experience will inspire all to stand up and speak out for what is right and help with the equal enforcement of all laws.

Take care,

Annette

helen.ng
Mar 24, 2017
Mar 24, 2017

Thank you for sharing your story, Mary. I am so sorry to hear about the truly unjust treatment you had to endure. It is simply not right to discriminate against employees based on one such characteristic -- being pregnant, and to be unable to access resources regarding reproductive health without any sort of male figure being present. I cannot imagine how frustrated you must have felt, and continue to feel, and that goes for all the other women in Nigeria who have to face similar dilemmas. You are so strong; keep your head high, and God bless.

Erika310
May 16, 2017
May 16, 2017

Thank you for being brave enough to share your story.  I am so very sorry you had to deal with all of that during a time that should be filled with joy.  My hope is that we can all look back at this in time and say that these issues no longer exist.  I hope all is well for you now and you are able to enjoy your little blessing!