August 8, 2019 / 5:20 PM / a month ago

Time for change, says Kenyan MP chided for taking baby to parliament

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Kenyan lawmaker who was kicked out of parliament for bringing her baby to work said on Thursday that the row highlighted the need to open up spaces for women and mothers.

Zuleikha Hassan said her actions resulted in the speedy creation of a long-promised parliament creche, and she hoped it would also spark discussion over the difficulties faced by many young women who felt forced to choose between family or career.

“It should highlight the challenges young women face,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone call from parliament in Nairobi.

“If we now can have workplaces around Kenya that have nurseries - something so simple but with such a big impact - that would be a move in the right direction.”

Rules for the lower National Assembly state only elected politicians can be in the chamber during parliamentary business. Authorities had pledged to build a creche for lawmakers in 2013 but then failed to act for six years.

A spokesman for the National Assembly could not immediately be reached for comment.

Hassan, 39, an MP for the center-left Orange Democratic Movement, said she took her five-month-old baby girl Mwanabaraka to work on Wednesday after struggling to get childcare which would normally have meant she would have to stay at home.

“I think I have been patient enough,” said the mother-of four. “I reached my limit and I said ‘I am going with my baby to work’.”

The MP, who first joined parliament in 2013, said she managed to evade security to enter the chamber and sat at the front before being ordered to leave by the temporary speaker.

Her removal, which took place during World Breastfeeding Week, sparked arguments and dissent among MPs as some tried to defend her and others urged her to go.

Although she was disappointed not to be given the chance to make her case to the chamber before being ordered out, Hassan said “the message was sent” and this morning she found a parliamentary creche had been installed.

The lawmaker said many young women struggle with workplaces that do not accommodate breastfeeding or other childcare needs.

“You want to have a family but you still want to have a career and we are always made to choose either/or,” she said.

“We are able to do both but we need a bit of support.”

The row also highlighted the lack of equal representation for women, with less than a quarter of seats held by female lawmakers in Kenya’s parliament, according to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

A vote last year on changes that would have guaranteed at least a third of seats go to women failed due to low turnout.

Kenya had made progress on equal representation for women but still has further to go, Hassan said, with women’s voices essential to ensure their needs are met.

“I am in parliament now ... this is why you want to come to places like this - so we can make even a small change and even if no change happens then at least I spoke up,” she said.

Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org

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