Pregnancy refers to the nine months during which a woman carries a developing embryo and foetus in her body. During pregnancy, both the woman and her developing child may face various health risks. Disorders and complications related to pregnancy, which may result in incapacity to work, form part of the risks inherent in pregnancy and less favourable treatment on that ground, or perhaps even dismissal, amount to direct discrimination against women.
While such rights have been seen in the past as an exception to the principle of equal treatment, nowadays they are rather considered as a means to ensure the implementation of the principle of equal treatment of women and men, regarding both access to employment and working conditions. In fact, they aim to accommodate the main biological difference between women and men.
(1) World Health Organization definition of pregnancy; (2) European Commission (2009). EU Rules on Gender Equality: How are they transposed into national law?