Kwale Woman Representative Zulekha Hassan yesterday walked into the National Assembly with a five-month-old baby, paralysing House business for more than 20 minutes.
Ms Zulekha sneaked into the debating chamber and took a seat between Homa Bay MP Peter Kaluma and his Alego Usonga counterpart Samuel Atandi.
National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale (Garissa Town) immediately drew the attention of temporary Deputy Speaker Chris Omulele (Luanda) to the “presence of a stranger” in the House.
Mr Omulele directed Zulekha to immediately withdraw from the chamber, but she refused to budge.
Despite Omulele directing the Sergeant-at-Arms to physically remove the MP, Mr Atandi and Mr Kaluma shielded her from the House orderlies.
A 20-minute standoff ensued after fellow women MPs joined Atandi and Kaluma in forming a human shield around Zulekha.
Laikipia North MP Sarah Korere then took the baby, Mwana Baraka, from Zulekha and led women out of the chamber.
“I had an emergency and decided not to miss work but come with the baby. She is not an atomic bomb and can’t explode.
“This is my third child since I came to this House in 2013, but I have not brought them here,” Zulekha said.
The MPs said they had enacted a law that required all work places, including Parliament, to set aside places for lactating mothers.
Zulekha told journalists the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) had in August 1, 2013 given approval for a breastfeeding room to be set up.
“The room would have allowed us to come with our breastfeeding children and their care-givers. I would not have brought this child to the chamber,” she said.
MPs Rachael Nyamai (Kitui South) and Sofia Noor (Ijara) threatened to marshal all women with lactating children to go with them to the House if the PSC did not provide a breastfeeding room.
Ms Noor said it was unfortunate that such an incident could happen in Parliament “where laws are made” and wondered what the fate of working mothers in the rest of the country was.
“This child has a right. If they don’t establish a breastfeeding room then we will urge all women with breastfeeding children to come with their children in the chamber so as to send a message.”
Ms Nyamai said the incident that occurred on the last day of the World Breastfeeding Week should prompt Parliament to provide a lactation room.
Nyamai questioned why the PSC had failed to give priority to young mothers by setting up a crèche. “This child has a right to be with the mother and we don’t understand why she is being sent away.”
Kaluma wondered why there was no lactating room despite a law mandating their establishment countrywide.
“Parliament passed laws, which should not be in vain. Hon Zulekha has raised a very important issue on public policy. We may condemn her for being there but we are wrong.”
But Mr Omulele said the PSC had provided facilities to be used by breastfeeding members. He said no further action would be taken against Zulekha.
In 2017, the lawmakers unanimously voted to pass a Bill that seeks to compel employers to construct special rooms, where lactating mothers could breastfeed and change their babies.
The law says this is a requirement for any company that has more than 30 employees.
To facilitate breastfeeding, the Bill proposes that employers give mothers regular breaks lasting not more than 40 minutes every four hours.
In a rejoinder, Deputy Speaker Moses Cheboi yesterday confirmed, through the Office of Clerk Michael Sialai, that the PSC had set aside a facility within Parliament Square, specifically on the fourth floor of the Red Cross Building, to cater for lactating members and parliamentary staff.
He said lactating mothers were allowed to bring along their nannies to watch over babies while they undertake their official duties.
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Kwale Woman Representative Zulekha HassanNational Assembly
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