March 8 is International Women’s Day. This article is part of a week-long series from Business Today celebrating African women and highlighting their challenges they face. You can also enjoy our previous feature, Getrude Njeri’s list of 15 Inspiring Women in Corporate Africa.
Kenyan women in the workplace have had to fight countless battles over the years, advocating for policies that not only assure them access to opportunities but also protection from harassment and discrimination based on their gender.
In 2021, women feature in key decision making roles at major organizations, including as CEOs of listed firms such as KenGen and East African Breweries Limited (EABL) among others. Across different cadres, however, challenges they face remain the same.
The Employment Act 2007 provides regulations with regard to terms of employment. It forbids employers from either harassing or discriminating directly or indirectly against employees or prospective employees, on the grounds of sex, pregnancy, mental status or HIV status, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnic or social origin or disability. It also provides that an employer should pay his employees equal remuneration for work of equal value.
Despite the existence of this legislation, however, countless Kenyan women suffer discrimination and harassment at the workplace. Many more do not enjoy equal pay compared to their male counterparts – local victims of the global gender pay gap.
In February, President Uhuru Kenyatta rejected a bill that would have compelled employers to give leave to parents of adopted children or those born through surrogacy.
The President returned the bill to Parliament, with a memorandum noting the absence of a substantive legal and regulatory framework governing surrogacy in Kenya. It offered the latest example of how lack of focus on pro-women policies affects their lives and experiences in the labor market.
The Employment (Amendment) Bill, 2019 sponsored by Gilgil MP Martha Wangari had sought to provide two months leave to mothers of a child born as a result of surrogacy and two weeks paternity leave to the father.
At the moment, women workers are entitled to 3 months (91) calendar days of fully paid maternity leave on the birth of the child. The worker must be given a written notice of at least 7 days prior to proceeding on maternity leave on a specific date to return to work therefore maternity leave can be extended with the consent of employer or a worker may proceed to sick leave or any other kind of leave with employers consent.
Women rights’ advocates have in recent years called for the maternity leave provision to be extended to 16 weeks, to give mothers enough time to bond with their children before returning to work.
Kenyan laws prohibit sexual harassment at the workplace. They, however, do not propose any actual punishment – a situation that has fueled cases of harassment at the workplace across several sectors.
It has been left to employers to ensure that workers are not subjected to sexual harassment and to take disciplinary measures against persons involved in sexual harassment.
The Sexual Offences Act of 2006, however, provides that any person being in a position of authority holding a public office persistently making sexual advances which are unwelcome is guilty of the offence of sexual harassment and is liable to imprisonment of at least three years or a fine of Ksh 100,000 or both.
Sexual harassment is defined as behaviour characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation.
In recent years, numerous Kenyan women in media and entertainment have opened up on nightmare experiences they go through at the hands of powerful individuals in the industry, fueling a larger conversation on harassment.
In recent years, numerous organizations both public and private have made efforts to make their premises more welcoming to breastfeeding mothers.
At some government Huduma Centres, for instance, breastfeeding rooms and stations have been built while numerous other organizations such as Safaricom have also integrated the rooms for mothers and children.
Many more, however, have made little progress in this regard despite breastfeeding stations for lactating mothers being enshrined in maternal protection laws.
Unfortunately, Kenyan law does not include any provision providing nursing breaks for mothers.