Challenges Faced By Pregnant Women And New Mothers In The Workplace

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As we still enjoy the first part of the 21st Century, we applaud the developments that have championed for the rights of women in social, economic and political circles. After centuries of fighting for their voices to be heard, women now have a seat at the table. They now join their brothers at the forefront of groundbreaking discoveries and policy making. These developments have birthed the woman of today; the career woman. Her new found status has however not stripped her of her previous roles. She still plays role bequeathed to her by nature; being a wife and mother. Gender equity and equality rules are yet to catch up to this woman leaving her unprotected.

The experiences faced by pregnant or new mothers indicate that not enough is being done to ensure that the workplace has policies that prevent unfair treatment of any kind. The careers of these women are continuously threatened by employers or colleagues who seek to derail them for their own benefit. Some of the challenges faced by these women include;

  1. Discrimination

In a UK government report commissioned by The Equality and Human Rights Commission (ECHR), three quarters of pregnant and new mothers admitted to experiencing discrimination in the workplace. These women reported to have been denied rightfully earned promotions or requests of pay increments awarded to their male counterparts. Jo Swinson, who was responsible for the publishing of the report attributed part of the gender pay gap to the lack of support of women before and after pregnancy. ‘Motherhood penalty’ is a term coined by sociologists arguing that mothers experience significant disadvantages in pay and perceived competence relative to childless women.

In the above report, ECHR advised the government to provide insurance schemes to help employees provide enhanced pay and cover during maternity as is being done in Denmark. It is proposed that the government extend the pay gap reporting to include return rates after maternity leave.

  1. The breastfeeding dilemma

Medical practitioners advocate for continuous breastfeeding of children for no less than six months. The stipulated maternity leave provided for each mother is only three months. This is to say that most mothers go back to their offices before their babies are done suckling. The African Population and Health Research Centre engaged various women about the struggles they faced during breastfeeding. Many of the challenges brought up by working mothers include the transition from maternity leave to working full time. There is a proposal for maternity leave to be extended to six months –Bill proposes three more maternity leave months.

One of these issues has to do with pumping of milk. Most of these women have to wake up as early as 3a.m to pump breast milk to leave behind for their babies. Because breast milk does not adhere to a work-home schedule, it necessitates one to have to pump milk during the day at their place of work. Lack of proper designated areas to express milk forces them to pump their milk in cramped toilets or in the parking lot.

 

A mother using a breast pump. Image from http://www.pnmag.com/h-s/lansinoh-signaturepro-double-electric-breast-pump/

To add to their problems, once they pump their milk storing the milk proves to be a nuisance. Some leave the milk in bottle warmers in their vehicles. Most facilities have objections to use of the refrigeration facilities to store breast milk. There is therefore urgent need to evaluate the period set aside for maternity leave. Last year the Members of Parliament approved a bill to have employers provide nursing stations.  Very many organizations have not implemented this directive. There are a new policy set to improve workplace conditions for breastfeeding mothers, hopefully this will be fully implemented. Here are 15 Kenyan Companies supporting a Mother friendly workplace including Safaricom.

  1. Harassment

Pregnant and new mothers are prone to harassment in their places of work. This harassment often emanates from their fellow colleagues and employers. There is often through use of insults or negative comments directed at their work ethic especially because they have to arrive at work later or leave early. In the government report stated above women narrated experiences of employers who go as far as denying pregnant mothers leave to attend antenatal sessions. Pregnant women claimed to have been treated differently by interviewers after revealing their status. All they see after that is a big bundle of maternity leave and pregnancy related off days. These are hoops most employers prefer to jump.

There are of course other issues that all working mothers face like missing work because nannies have decided to quit without notice and having to take time off work because of sick kids, some of whom are admitted in hospital and require the mother to be in the hospital as well. Some bosses are also not very understanding about motherhood and they contribute to a hostile working environment for working mothers. There is also the issue of mothers who adopt who should get maternity leave but whether they are able to get the same is another issue – Adoptive mothers to get 90 days leave.

It is a shame that these are still issues plaguing our society in this time and era. The rules of gender equity stipulate fairness in treatment of women and men according to their respective needs. The society is yet to provide a conducive environment for the success of working mothers. There is a lot to be done to make it easy for the struggling working mother to be productive in the work environment.

Are you a working mother? What challenges do you face at the workplace?

Featured image from www.impactafya.com.

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