Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) in Kenya’s northeastern Mandera County have introduced a bill seeking to compel employers to provide childcare spaces in the workplace for breastfeeding women. The bill is being discussed with members of the public this week.
Radio Ergo’s Fowzia Omar asked the sponsor of the bill, Sokoray Moalim, why she felt this was important for women in the county.
Sokoray: I decided to propose this bill after I experienced challenges in my former workplace. The majority of women who work only manage to continue to breastfeed their babies for not more than four months after delivery. This is mostly because of the distance between their workplace and home. For instance, if a woman leaves home in the morning and hopes to get a chance at 1 pm to go home and breastfeed her baby, she may be called for a meeting which stretches up to 3 pm.
So they go back home in the evening when they believe their breastmilk is no longer good for their babies. I am not sure if this is medically factual but our mothers used to tell us that if the baby is breastfed after many hours, the baby can get sick from the milk.
This influenced me to propose this bill. Breastfeeding remains the first preventive health measure that can be given to a child at birth and that it enhances mother-to-infant relationship;
I want mothers to be able to work freely and be provided with places at work where they can breastfeed their babies. The babysitters will be able to bring the children to their mothers at work, where they can play with them and feed them.
Fowzia: What if the mothers are given break time to go to their babies at home, is that not possible?
Sokoray: Not all mothers have a car and some may be living far from their workplace. Let us say a secretary; she does not have money to hire a car to go home and come back. This may force mothers to stop breastfeeding after reaching four months which is said to be enough.
Fowzia: When you say four months, you mean during maternity leave?
Sokoray: Yes, after these months, when mothers resume their work, it is assumed that the breastfeeding time was enough. But stopping breastfeeding can contribute to babies falling sick more easily, giving the mother a hard time having to take the child to the hospital. That can anger her boss. When you try to explain your case, the bosses will be patient for two or three days considering your excuse, but after that, you get a termination letter. You might be told to go home because you are incompetent.
So it is good that mothers continue their work and breastfeed their babies at workplaces so that they can concentrate.
Fowzia: Have you ever met mothers sacked because of this?
Sokoray: No but you can be told that you are not competent and that if you are absent from work for a week or two it may cost you your job.
Fowzia: Tell us more about what the bill seeks to achieve.
Sokoray: The bill has various articles including the requirement for employers to set aside childcare place for mothers. Failure to do so incurs a fine of 500,000 Kenya shillings ($5,000) or a jail term of one and a half years. But the bill is a draft and may be amended.
Fowzia: Where is the bill now?
Sokoray: I submitted the bill and it has been handed over to the county assembly under the committee. The committee will launch a public consultation exercise on 25 March and will meet with working women to discuss it with them. If the women support it, it will be put to a vote.