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Pregnancy is Posterity!

As a wife, mother and Human Resource Professional as well as a Kids coach, i believe in giving people opportunity in spite of their current position in life. I never had any struggles with getting time off during my 3 pregnancies but i know women who have, and have suffered either loss of a job or missed an opportunity for employment because they were pregnant. This not withstanding the fact that the Employment Act in Kenya provides for 3 months paid maternity leave for women as well as 2 weeks paternity leave for men.

No woman should be discriminated against because she is pregnant. It has nothing to do with her ability to deliver on the job, apart from cases where the pregnancy is at risk and one is required to be on bed rest. A former colleague and Gender Specialist, wrote the article below on pregnancy and i fully support and love the write up thussharing and wishing all women a Happy International Womens Day!

"Pregnancy should not impede access to employment. Women do not decline in skills and productivity because of pregnancy and subsequent childbirth. It is not a medical condition that erodes existing competencies, leading to lacklustre performance. What women require are palatable terms and conditions that make work and pregnancy compatible and enjoyable.

But there are countless women whose pregnancy status has hampered eligibility for employment and retention. Recruiters discriminate against them for fear that their being expectant lowers the return on investment due to increased costs of staff support (healthcare bill) and a downward trend in output attributed to time loss. Porous job security arrangements have seen expectant women lose their positions when they proceed on maternity leave. Consequently, some women forego child bearing in order to protect their jobs.

Moralistic employers equate pregnancy out of wedlock to questionable morals, and therefore force affected staff to resign or face summarily dismissal. Female staff in such organizations flee from employment the moment they vomit twice in the morning to avoid the ignominy and odium attendant to being fired in the midst of unsavory publicity and condemnation. Such puritanical employers construe pregnancy outside of marriage as testimony of consumption of illicit sex which mars their pious and virtuous image.

Majority of the victims of this despicable discrimination are young female job seekers. Employers lacking institutionalized gender sensitive recruitment procedures mischievously keep them at bay lest they incur 'astronomical' maternal and child health costs when child bearing sets in. Indeed many health insurance providers reportedly dread handling clients with majority of staff falling within the reproductive age bracket due to low profitability. Young female employees are thus caught in the quandary of the social pressure to marry and bear children versus the impact on their entry and retention in employment.

A colleague tells me of how the panel asked for time out to confer among themselves when she entered the interview room looking like she would be proceeding on maternity leave the following day. The panel had least expected such a scenario and were psychologically ill-equipped to interact sensitively and sensibly with this type of candidate. Their efforts to make her comfortable looked desperate and awkward as they did not even have appropriate furniture for her. She had no illusions of getting the job when they took her through the interview perfunctorily and wished her well.

What would you do when your best interview candidate is due for maternity leave yet you are recruiting for a six month period? Leaving her out amounts to discrimination while contracting her means she will work for only three months. The six month employment period would indeed be less than the leave period in countries like Norway where parental leave is either 49 weeks with 100% pay, or 59 weeks with 80% pay.

Entitlement to maternity and paternity leave is a sacrosanct human right that should not hamper or lead to loss of employment. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) stipulates the right to protection of health in the workplace, including safeguarding of the function of reproduction. Women's capacity to combine roles of child bearing and rearing with participation in the work force is recognized under the ICPD. The ILO Decent Work Agenda pays explicit attention to maternity protection. Further, adequate and paid pre and post-natal maternity leave in both private and public sectors are enshrined in the Maputo Protocol.

The Kenyan Constitution (Article 27) cites pregnancy as one of grounds upon which discrimination is outlawed. The Employment Act (2007) states that "No employer shall discriminate directly or indirectly, against an employee or prospective employee or harass an employee or prospective employee on grounds of pregnancy, among other premises, including sex and HIV status. Denial of employment or exposure to violations on the basis of pregnancy is therefore a plausible litigation matter under the Kenyan law.

Research estimates that 54,000 women across Great Britain lose or are pushed out of jobs due to pregnancy related factors. Kenya has not documented the impact of this form of discrimination to buttress an empirical argument. However anecdotal information is persuasive on the reality and calamitous outcomes of maternity based discrimination in the country.

The solution to a scenario in Kenya where the house girl reports pregnancy is often prompt termination of employment. The dim view that her condition makes her ineffective in work coupled with suspicion that a member of the house hold could be responsible for the pregnancy is used to justify her release from employment. Unscrupulous segments of the private sector offer employees short term appointments to create avenues for subtle dismissal in case of pregnancy. Have you ever noticed how expectant news anchors struggle to conceal pregnancy and finally disappear from the screen?

Pregnancy has been used to discriminate against women wishing to join the armed forces in Kenya. My position remains that a woman who qualifies for recruitment into the armed forces but happens to be expectant should be allowed to defer the period of rigorous training until after childbirth. While universities allow students to study even when expectant, primary school and diploma teacher training institutions still criminalize pregnancy which has led to many female students falling by the wayside in their career path. Such institutions deserve an enlightening encounter with the law.

Redressing pregnancy based discrimination in employment and work place starts with the recruitment process. Always indicate in the advert that "pregnant women are encouraged to apply" in case existing stereotypes diminish their inclination towards the job. Sensitise recruitment panels on how to interact with an expectant candidate, including interludes between sessions if the interview is long. The comfort of such candidates which includes provision of appropriate furniture is paramount.

Pregnant staff need a supportive work environment. Flexi work arrangements are necessary depending on the unique demands of the pregnancy experience. Bringing on board temporary staff to support expectant ones is a practice that is increasingly being institutionalized. Further, contingency measures to address pregnancy related work place emergencies should be part of the core healthcare package. Psychosocial support to expectant staff is equally important. They should have opportunities for reflection and understanding of their status through psychosocial programmes that are well integrated into their work schedules.

Institutions should cultivate an organizational culture that embraces and celebrates pregnancy. Staff should not be allowed to taunt and ridicule those who are pregnant whether it is a dividend of marriage or evidence of munificent sponsorship. Judgemental attitudes that portray pregnancy as confirmation of moral waywardness should be expunged from the organizational culture. Staff should be guided to be supportive without patronizing or disempowering pregnant colleagues. Always remember that unless women give birth you will never have new staff.

Pregnant staff should not capitalize on the condition to deteriorate in work performance. Absenteeism that is not dictated by a compelling medical condition related to the pregnancy should be shunned. Neither should work place relations be characterised by relentless tantrums under the guise of delicate pregnancy emotions. The attitude of colleagues towards a pregnant colleague sometimes depends on the colleague's own disposition towards the condition. Cantankerousness can only breed callousness! Pregnancy should be the source of joy and pride that fuels rededication to quality work and sterling results.

The Government should consider reviewing the Employment Act to increase maternity leave to six months and one month of paternity leave. Departure for maternity leave should be at least one month before delivery to allow for a smooth and healthy transition between work and child birth. The merit of such a system would be increased chances of exclusive breastfeeding that will have a positive impact on child mortality. Pregnancy is posterity! Be bold for change! Stand up for pregnant employees!"

Written by John Wafula, Kenya (on International Womens Day)

Economic Power
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