Kenya has seen a remarkable growth in exclusive breastfeeding for children under six months old. In 2003 only 13% of mothers were breastfeeding exclusively. This year, according to the National Demographic and Health Survey, 61% of mothers of children aged less than six months were breastfeeding exclusively.
This achievement is the result of massive drive to promote breastfeeding. Two of the programmes, set up by the Kenyan government, are the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative and the Baby Friendly Community Initiative. One promotes breastfeeding in hospitals at the time of delivery and the other breastfeeding in the community.
Yesterday, Kenya joined the rest of the world in marking World Breastfeeding Week, which is held every year from 1st to 7th August to advocate for exclusive breastfeeding of infants. This year’s theme – “Breastfeeding and Work, Let’s Make it Work!” – calls for concerted global action to enable women to combine breastfeeding and work in the workplace.
Speaking when he presided over the launch of the awareness campaign at Safaricom’s Michael Joseph Centre, Hon. James W. Macharia, Cabinet Secretary for Health, urged employers to establish breastfeeding-friendly workplaces.
“Breastfeeding is vital to the growth and health of our babies and is thereby the very foundation of a healthy and productive Kenya and key to achieving our Vision 2030,” declared the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Health. “The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that children feed exclusively on breast milk for the first six months of their lives, so whether a woman is working in the formal, non-formal or home setting, it is necessary that she is empowered to claim her and her baby’s right to breastfeed.”
The Ministry of Health has partnered with several organisations to lead the campaign, including UNICEF, WHO, Safaricom, Kenya Women Finance Trust, National Bank, International Medical Corps and Kenya Red Cross among others.
Hearing of a company that is family friendly by either giving longer maternity, paternity leave, or by providing facilities that cater for new mothers and children has only been something a reserve of the west. Not in Africa.
However, this is slowly changing mainly due to these multinationals setting up offices in African countries or by local blue chip companies and NGOs taking up the challenge and following suit.
When the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) held a round table in 2010 in a bid to get Kenyan companies to commit to created enabling environments for their female staff and children, Safaricom was among the companies that showed their commitment by signing to it. Although 30 companies signed the commitment, So far, less than 20 organisations have held their end in this commitment. We chose to highlight them in order to applaud them and show other Kenyan companies both big and small that its not about how much it costs. As the CEO of Safaricom Bob Collymore put it
It is a shame that in the 21st century, there are companies forcing their female employees to express milk in the toilet.
A recent study by Philips Africa in urban Africa looked into the challenges among Kenyan and Ghanian women around breastfeeding as a sample. It considered women in different settings from urban poor to middle income and rural areas. The Philips Africa latest research study also focused on supporting new mothers as well as identifying key challenges that they face.
As you will note with many of the companies that we shall list and profile below, most if not all have offered the following as part of their package to working mothers in their organisations, These according to the Ministry of Health in Kenya are the best practices in workplace support for breastfeeding.
– Maternity insurance that caters for both normal delivery & either elective or emergency Cesarean
– Extended maternity leave beyond the stipulated 3 months by the Federation of Kenyan Employers
– Option to combine annual leave with maternity leave
– Paternity Leave (either the stipulated according to law) or extended term
– Half day after maternity leave
– A designated breast feeding room with all minimum amenities like milk storage
– A children’s Crèche
Below are the Kenyan organisations applying best practices and spearheading this year’s World Breast Feeding Week theme “Making Breastfeeding in the work environment work!
2. FHI 360
3. Kenya Women Finance Trust
4. National Bank of Kenya
5. International Medical Corps
6. Kenya Red Cross
7. Karen Roses Flower Farm
Last month, Nestlé launched a global Maternity Protection Policy for its employees worldwide, which gives employees a minimum of 14 weeks paid maternity leave and the right to extend their maternity leave up to six months. Nestlé has 280 employees in Kenya, 90 of them women
9. World Vision
11. Red Land Roses
12. Action Against Hunger
13. Finlay Tea Farm
14. Oserian Flower Farm
15. World Bank
We hope that other Kenyan organisations can take this up as a challenge and create a friendly environment for women whose contribution and numbers in the workforce is increasing. A woman should not have to choose between her career and starting a family.