The ejection of Kwale Woman Representative Zulekha Hassan from Parliament for showing up with a baby is ridiculous.
The MP simply played the role of balancing work and family.
Motherhood is an obstacle many women face, especially those running for political office. The MP made it clear that young women belong in Parliament too; it was not a political gesture but a maternal one. Babies need to eat while their mothers need to work.
Women have been bypassed in appointments and promotions at work because they have to balance work and family.
In the past, most women leaders only ascended to power in their 50s or 60s, after taking care of their children and ensuring they were independent.
When a woman misses work to attend to family, they are deemed inefficient; when they come to work with the baby, the little one becomes a ‘stranger’.
If she wants to be at work and look after her baby, both must be accommodated. Such a woman should not have to choose between serving her constituents and her children.
Indeed, babies can be disruptive if brought to Parliament, but the disruption would not be any different from the chattering, grumbling and heckling from the same MPs who kicked out baby and mother.
Babies under six months old eat and sleep a lot; thus their mothers can still get a lot of work done.
When fed and happy, they are unlikely to cause any disturbance in the House. In any case, their presence could remind MPs that the decisions they make have wider impact outside the narrowness of some debates such as their huge wage bill.
In an amazing step towards gender equality, MPs in 2017 unanimously voted to pass the Breastfeeding Bill that compelled employers to construct special rooms for lactating mothers. This would encourage mother-child bonding and nurturing.
Such policies also allow more mothers to breastfeed for longer — the World Health Organisation recommends mothers to exclusively breastfeed infants for the child's first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health.
Parliament has to decidedly have a baby-friendly attitude towards its female members. That there is a crèche in Parliament does not justify the dramatic kick-out. The pictures shared on social media showed a neat crèche.
If it indeed exists, has it ever been used? Is it habitable enough for the mothers to utilise it? Who mans it, so that the babies are in safe hands?
I would have expected him to direct Hon Zulekha to the crèche instead of simply kicking her out.
Research shows that organisations with programmes that allow infants at the workplace noted many benefits.
It is a great way to attract and retain talent, support women who choose to nurse, and support babies in a developmental period of importance.
Breastfeeding in Parliament is not a strange phenomenon. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shot to international fame for bringing her baby to work to breastfeed.
A Senator in Australia, Larissa Waters, in 2017, breastfed her two-month-old baby in Parliament.
Women have been breastfeeding since time immemorial. Our grandmothers went to work (farms) with their children.
Hawkers and mama mbogas carry their children to work. Surely, an MP can sit in Parliament, breastfeed her baby and still debate. What is the big deal?
For more women to be in the corridors of power, we must understand what it means to work while female. The ejection of the MP was disrespectful.
We are in the 21st Century, living in a modern democracy, which hopefully, will push us toward gender equality.
Ms Odumbe is the General Editor, Nation Media Group; [email protected]