NAIROBI - The Kenyan parliament's ejection of a female lawmaker for bringing her five-month-old baby to a session Wednesday has sparked debate on breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. Kenya’s parliament in 2017 passed a motion compelling employers to provide safe spaces for mothers and their children. Proponents of the legislation say little progress has been made since.
The drama ensued early Wednesday morning in the country’s parliament building when Zuleika Hassan, a female lawmaker, walked into a legislative session with her five-month-old baby.
The presence of both mother and child brought parliamentary proceedings to a standstill, as several male lawmaker demanded that both leave the debating chamber.
“Mr. Speaker, this house has a stranger and it has never happened since 1963. Mr. Speaker, this is an abuse of the house and that member must be cited for gross misconduct. We must protect the dignity of the house,” said lawmaker Aden Duale.
Acting House Speaker Christopher Omulele ruled that Hassan was out of order and directed the sergeant-at-arms to remove her from the chamber.
“As much as she might want to take care of her child, this is not the place for it and I therefore direct that she immediately withdraws and she may return to the chamber after she withdraws the child,” said Omulele.
Saida Ali, a Kenyan gender rights activist, said in her view, it was the speaker who was out of order.
“This is an example of how patriarchy sends out a message that certain spaces are male spaces, certain spaces, certain leadership, certain decision making institutions are not spaces for women, and for me that is problematic because we are basically saying patriarchy as a system continues to assert male authority and legitimizes the oppression of women," said Ali.
Speaking to reporters after her ejection, Hassan said she had been presented with two options on Wednesday, either come to work without the baby or not show up at all. She chose the latter.
“The parliamentary services commission in 2013 passed that we should have a room, a crèche, where we can put our babies for breast feeding, for members and other parliamentary staff, so for now as we ask for more women to come into parliament, you need to provide a family-friendly atmosphere at work. Other companies are doing it in the country, parliament is not doing unfortunately," Hassan said.
Kenya’s parliament in 2017 passed a motion demanding employers to provide safe spaces for breastfeeding mothers and their children. However, only a handful of local companies have complied.