Allowing Zuleika Hassan to sit in parliament with her baby would have been worse

Should parents be allowed to take their babies to work? This is the exact question that Kwale women representative Zuleika Hassan ignited earlier today when she walked into the chambers with her five months old baby.

The action by Zuleika Hassan has divided Kenyans down the middle, with most women and a few men siding with her, arguing that as a mother and a parliamentarian she should be allowed to do both duties – take care of her few months old baby right inside the chambers as she executes her legislative responsibilities. On the flip side we have men who see some wrong to a lot of wrong in her action, where the argument is that she ought to have figured out how her baby would be taken care of at home or elsewhere. Whichever side you are on, the action of Zuleika Hassan has brought up an important topic that all of us must ponder.

To guide you in the pondering, I would like you to image a world where five of the members of parliament have come in with their babies. One baby starts to cry. The session halts to allow for the member of parliament to take the baby out, quiet him/her, then come back. Just as she comes back, another baby starts to cry. The session has to wait a bit longer before the proceedings can proceed. The second baby is brought back in, the session proceeds for a few minutes, then the first one starts to cry again. At the end of the day, all the five babies cried, their mothers or fathers attended to their needs – then the others started to debate whether or not the rule allowing members of parliament to come into the chambers with babies should be revoked.

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Let us extend the pondering to other Government and Private workplaces. A teacher has brought a seven months baby to school. How effective will she be in delivering her lessons? A scenario of a nurse attending to patients with a baby clad on her back has been illustrated by those against Zuleika’s action. What about a bank teller unable to quickly serve customers because she has her one year old baby on her nerves?

Obviously the answer to those questions is that we shouldn’t allow parents to go to work with their babies. Or at least, not right inside the workstation itself. Those who have grappled with these question have tried to come up with some solutions two of the prominent ones being giving the women extended maternity leaves, and providing daycare services right at work.

The maternity leave solution has seen up to a two year maternity leave being proposed and adopted in certain countries like Sweden. In Sweden, maternity leave can run up to 69 weeks (One year 4 months and a week), with a few countries in central Europe allowing up to three years maternity leave. A long maternity leave that runs past 6 months has however been argued by others as counterproductive, even in situations where those leaves are fully paid for. This is because the reasoning for the materternity leaves has been that they enable the woman to fully take care of her baby as she continues being a career woman. As the woman stays at home with the baby however, progress at work leaves her behind, such that by the time she resumes work, her colleagues would have advanced remarkably both by experience and by adopting new technologies and/or methodologies for executing their tasks, technologies/methodologies the woman hadn’t had time to experience. To work around this hurdle, many organizations are encouraging a work from home policy that would allow the woman on maternity leave to do some light duties but from home.

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Providing babycare services right at work is also being tried in several workplaces in developed countries. “    

Something close to organizations providing some sort of daycare services was ironically debated in Parliament back in 2013 where MPs passed a motion directing the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) to set aside a room within Parliament buildings for breastfeeding mothers, but six years later nothing of the sort has been done. The failure of parliament to act on its own motion made it possible for Zuleika Hassan to walk into the chambers with a baby in her arms. Given that, what was parliament supposed to do with the facts at hand?

A situation where parliament allowed Zuleika to sit through the session with her baby without question could have opened even a bigger pandora box, where many workers across the country could have considered it wise to go to work with their babies, thereby creating adverse environments where most workers are not able to perform their duties 100%, but also exposing the babies to a variety of dangers including diseases and environmental harm. Parliament therefore had to react to Zuleika’s action in a way they did. It has been argued by some that she was treated misogynistically, but personally I do not think it could have gone down any better – as, and it is true, majority of parliamentarians are men raised in a misogyntic society.

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My good friend Wamathai put up a thread on this a few hours ago, and in that thread it is clear Kenyans are divided down the middle. Objectively looking at the problem however, emotions aside, allowing parents to go with their kids to work cannot yield any progress for any workplace or the nation.

Odipo Riaga
Managing Editor at KachTech Media
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