By Salome Nthenya Nzuki

Gone are the days when the only dreams girls had were to get married to a handsome prince charming, have beautiful kids with long hair and a Cinderella ‘happilly-ever-after’ ending.  Aside from family life, girls aspire to have flourishing careers as well however the work place does not seem ready to fully accommodate working mothers.

Working women with young children have a rough time balancing between their careers and family life. Tough job requirements such as those that require women to work extra hours in the evening could severely strain a woman’s relationship with her children and husband because of the limited time she spends with them. 

A while back I watched a lifestyle show where a woman narrated how she had to abandon her promising career as an operations manager because she felt disconnected from her family due to long hours spent at work. Her days began early in the morning and ended late in the evening. She would leave her husband and children asleep only to return much later that day to find them asleep. Her job became more demanding as days passed and she felt like a stranger to her children and husband. She made a painful decision to quit her job and be a stay at home mother.  

The woman only resumed work after her children joined high school. She admits that she was happy to spend lots of time with her children but this was possible because her husband was supportive of her decision to quit her job. Her husband continued to pay the family bills and even helped her establish a catering business.

Not many women have the safety net to quit a demanding job and focus solely on raising kids. Some are single mothers and a paycheck is important in catering for their households’ economic needs. Other women may be in abusive unions and earning an income means they are able to break free from abuse without depending on their abusive partners. Others may not have financially stable partners and their family would not survive on one income.

Young women of reproductive age also battle between childbirth and work. In Kenya a number of women get fired or passed for a job opportunity or promotion because of a pregnancy. This practice is illegal according to the Kenyan Employment Act but it is difficult and expensive to prove in a court of law that termination was due to a pregnancy.  

In Kenya, employees are granted three months paid maternity leave which is not adequate time for a woman to recover from childbirth and nurse her baby. Most workplaces in Kenya lack facilities that would allow young mothers to bring their babies to work to nurse them.  There is also lack of private rooms for mothers to express breast milk and inadequate storage facilities for breast milk. All of the above exacerbate and add to the already challenging task of young mothers exclusively breastfeeding their young ones for six months as is recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Some young mothers also report excessive fatigue and lack of sleep especially when their babies are months old. Sometimes babies stay up all night and mothers have to stay awake too. This slows down the productivity of young mothers at work.  

Not many women are lucky enough to find caregivers that they can entrust their children with.  Jane* recounted how her house help decided to disappear without notice. Jane says her house help excused herself to buy something from the shop but never came back. Jane missed work for four days until she found another house help. Her employer was not happy with her and the four days she missed work were deducted from her annual leave. Many women also say that they feel guilty for having to make impromptu calls to their employers to ask for time off just in case their babies fall unexpectedly sick and they have to rush them to the hospital.

Employers need to support working mothers by providing flexible working schedules. This can be achieved by allowing women to leave work a little earlier than usual or come in a little later than usual. This will give young mothers more time to rest and care for their babies while at the same time increase their peace of mind, translating to productivity at work.

Employers can increase the number of months for paid maternity leave and provide crèche facilities   to help young mothers be more productive at work as well as focus on childcare. A crèche is a facility where young babies are attended to by childcare professionals and is normally located on the same premises where the parents of the baby’s work. Creche facilities equipped with breastfeeding rooms enable working mothers to breastfeed their babies during breaks as allowed by the employer. Having crèche facilities at work reduces absenteeism and stress among young working mothers.  This facilitates concentration at work and provides for career progression.

Women should be supported to grow in their careers as they raise their families. They shouldn’t have to choose between raising a family or a career. There cannot be production without reproduction. Workplaces need to embrace both the productive and reproductive aspect of women.

*Not her real name