Kenyan Women Rewriting Corporate Rules on Breastfeeding
Kenya is blazing a trail in support of the rights of breast-feeding women in the workplace with pending legislation which will force employers to provide “appropriate lactation” places on their premises. Africa Legal’s Tania Broughton investigates.
Law firms are gearing up to give their clients guidance as to how they can comply.
“This is landmark legislation,” says Sonal Sejpal, director at Nairobi-based law firm Anjarwalla & Khanna.
The Breastfeeding Mothers Bill, which was tabled last year was championed by Marunga County representatives Hon Sabina Chege who had personally felt the stigma against breastfeeding at work.
In an article on the website Afromum, she says she had no time to feed her child.
“It did not help matters that the offices of the (parliamentary) building had glass walls so there was no privacy. My car became my refuge and even that was difficult because it was so uncomfortable.”
In the same article, another working mom described her extreme embarrassment when, at a conference, her milk starting leaking.
“Somebody pointed it out and I had to run to my hotel room. The sadness of having to express into the sink, meaning the milk would not get to my daughter, made me forget the embarrassment of walking around with rings on my blouse.”
The bill is currently at committee stage and it is not clear when it will be passed into law.
It prescribes that each employer facilitate breastfeeding for employees who have babies that are two-years-old and below. This requires providing an appropriate lactation place within the employer’s premises, appropriate programmes that develop a baby’s cognitive, emotional, social and language abilities, trained staff and nutritionally balanced meals and snacks.
Employers are expected to allow their employees to breastfeed for a maximum of 40 minutes in every 4 hours worked.
Any person who owns, leases or rents a building whose maximum occupancy is 30 persons will also be expected to install a baby changing facility.
Any contravention of the provisions of the Bill will attract a fine not exceeding KES 500,000 (£3900) and/or imprisonment for not more than 1 year.
In its preamble, the Bill says: “Breastfeeding is the first preventive health measure that can be given to a child at birth and it also enhances mother-infant relationship. It is nature's first immunization.
“Kenya is a signatory to treaties that provide for the right of an infant to exclusive breastfeeding for six months.
“Presently, female employees exit the work force or stop breastfeeding in order to secure their job security. No woman should be forced to compromise the health of her child in order to make a living.”
Website Mom’s Village CEO Isis Nyong’o Madison says the World Health Organisation recommends that new babies should consume nothing but breast milk for at least the first 6 months “Since breast milk is produced in a supply and demand process, supply diminishes when the mother is at work and baby is not present to nurse.
“Where there are no adequate facilities to express and store breast milk, production rapidly declines. This has forced scores of Kenyan women to introduce food and other milk substitutes before their baby is ready – or opt out of the workforce.”
Madison said a survey had shown that 72% of Kenyan mums breastfed for 6 months or longer – almost double the global average.
“This is something to celebrate…..Kenyan women value their jobs but they also value being able to provide the best start for their babies.”
But in spite of the the “pro” breastfeeding literature, the Bill has attracted criticism.
Says Sejpal: “It has not received the full support of some key legislators such as the National Assembly Majority Leader, Aden Duale, who said he is opposed to the provision which requires public facilities with an occupancy of at least 30 persons to be expected to have baby changing facilities.
“He describes this as ‘overextending the magnanimity’ already given to the women.
Sejpal said there was also strong opposition from the Institute of Human Resource Management (IHRM), the body that regulates the human resource profession in Kenya, which petitioned the National Assembly and Senate not to pass it, arguing that it risks “marginalising women of childbearing age in the labour market”.
The legislation has been a long time in the offing.
In 2013, nominated MP Sarah Korere hit the headlines after she broke the norm by breastfeeding her six-month-old daughter in Parliament. This inspired the Parliamentary Service Commission to set up a private room with necessary apparatus to support breastfeeding mothers.
In 2015, Kitui South Member of Parliament Rachel Nyamai presented a similar breastfeeding bill, the Health Bill 2015, to Parliament but it failed to become law after business groups threatened to stop employing women if forced to offer breastfeeding facilities.
Sejpal said another attempt to change the status quo was when journalist Grayce Kerongo petitioned the Senate in 2017 to require every county in Kenya to create a breastfeeding center for breastfeeding mothers.
This is still being considered by the Senate.
“In 2017 the government unveiled a human resource policy that gave public institutions three years to set up day-care facilities and provide breastfeeding employees with well-equipped lactating rooms.”
In South Africa, the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) has urged mothers to “stand up for their legal rights”.
Executive Director Stasha Jordan says: “When maternity leave ends, many mothers think they have no choice but to stop breastfeeding. But the Code of Good Practice, which forms part of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997, entitles mothers to two breastfeeding or expressing breaks a day. Each 30 minute break cannot coincide with your lunch break and must be considered as paid time.”
Chantell Witten, a lecturer and PHD candidate at North-West University, says very few companies made good on this.
In an article in The Conversation, she says this is in spite of the fact that there has been an increase in the number of women in the labour market over the past decade.
“There are many ways employers can support breastfeeding in the workplace. They can designate private space….or they could give mothers other options after maternity leave, such as working from home, working part-time, extending maternity leave.”
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Re-publication without reference to the Africa Legal is not authorised.