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Let employers make workplace comfortable for female workers

Wednesday May 22 2019

WOMEN

A mother juggles work and motherhood duties. We should make every workplace a friendly place for women. ILLUSTRATION | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

NJERI RUGENE
By NJERI RUGENE
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There is an amazing young couple I know that has been trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

About five months after they got their firstborn, the young mother is back to work at one of the big private firms in town.

And, determined to breastfeed her little one for the longest time possible, she would not let anything — including her job — come between her and this determination for the baby’s health and wellbeing.

Twice a day, she breastfeeds the baby. But since her ‘posh’ workplace does not have a breastfeeding room, her husband drives the baby to a parking in the CBD and she breastfeeds it inside the car.

Fortunately, the young father is self-employed, hence flexible enough for the task.

CRÈCHES

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At the woman’s office, the issue of a convenient place where mothers can breastfeed their babies during working hours has been raised a number of times — initially as simply a discussion between colleagues in the office and, eventually, to the management. However, it has remained in the ‘To-Do’ list.

And there’s hardly any such support for breastfeeding mothers in most public and private organisations.

At a recent forum of journalists organised by the Media Council of Kenya in Naivasha as part of this year’s World Press Freedom Day celebrations, it emerged that most media houses now have in place policies on gender.

These include critical issues such as gender equity and equality in newsrooms, sexual harassment and related violence.

DISCRIMINATION

It emerged during the debate on safety and ending impunity against journalists that media houses, at least some of the mainstream ones, are slowly beginning to embrace policies on harmful gender-based practices.

These include sexual harassment against women and all forms of discrimination against them, such as in salaries and promotions.

It was made clear that organisations should be held accountable in case of failure to implement such policies.

However, a recent study does not paint a rosy picture. 'Safely engaged: Addressing gender-based violence and economic exclusion of girls and young women in Kenya — Public and private sector practices' was conducted and published by the women’s rights organisations Coalition on Violence Against Women (Covaw) and Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA).

The study found that in Kenya, only a handful of private firms, non-governmental organisations and business associations have adopted best practices on gender equality and equity, anti-gender-based violence and upholding equality in the provision of access to economic opportunities for all.

CULTURE

It also found that only 114 such firms, organisations and associations had signed the United Nations Global Compact Business Principles, a non-binding pact that encourages sustainable and socially responsible workplace policies.

This means that dozens of firms in the private sector have joined their public counterparts that have failed the accountability test of instituting policies that ensure good social and responsible practices.

The indication of potential to strengthen adoption of Sustainable Development Goals by the private sector, especially SDG 5, on gender equality and non-discrimination, is a good sign.

There’s no reason for employers not to implement and entrench the culture of best practices and SDGs.

Given that national guidelines for effective management of sexual and gender-based violence that are applicable to the public and private sectors exist, it’s baffling that private firms have done little to develop and implement gender policies.

We should make every workplace a friendly place for women. The Covaw and GAA study is worth a read, especially by corporate bodies and NGOs.

Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected] @nrugene

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