Kwale Woman Representative Zulekha Hassan(R) with her five-month-old baby held by Laikipia North MP Sarah Korere at Parliament. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

 

Arguably one of the most enduring political statements made in Parliament in the recent past was by a five-month-old baby and her mother.

On August 7, 2020, Kwale County Woman Representative Zulekha Hassan walked into the National Assembly chamber with her baby straddled to her waist. The House turned on its head.

The MP’s action was a protest against Parliament for its failure to create a special room for women to breastfeed their babies.

“This is my third child. I have never done this but it is only because today was an emergency and I had no other way and I thought why should I miss work, because it’s like I have been punished for having a child and it’s a very natural process,” the MP said then.

Women MPs walked out of Parliament to show solidarity with Hassan after she was ordered to leave. For women elected officials who are mothers, especially to young children, politics can be an unforgiving workplace, ask all the women whose leadership credentials have been questioned or who worry for the safety of their children.

Women in politics and have a family face a number of difficulties. One is the exposure of their personal life in public which happened between Wajir Woman Representative Fatuma Gedi and Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa.

In furtherance of their differences in Parliament, Barasa shared court documents from a custody suit between Gedi and her husband which contained names of Gedi’s three children who are minors.

In an interview where she spoke about being a mother and a politician, Gedi said she worries that some of the political attacks, such as a fake video that was circulated, would get to her young children who, unaware of the context could stumble on it online.

She said the criticism crosses a line when it has the potential to affect the family. 

“…because you have children and they will go to YouTube and they will not know that the video is fake,” she said.

This year, a record number of women are running for political office, thanks to a commitment by political parties to abide by a law seeking to address male dominance in politics. 

Women are starting to realise that it’s possible to be a mother and an elected official.

One of the standout images of the early days of the  2022 election was of a pregnant Karen Nyamu stepping on stage to make a case for her running for Nairobi senator on a UDA ticket. She was eight months pregnant with her third child.

The sight was an exception in Kenya. Nyamu said she will take a one-month break from campaigns. “Maternity leave does not have to be three months,” she said.

Statements that have been made on the campaign trail seem to suggest that politics and family do not mix, at least not for women.

A statement from Laikipia Woman Rep Cate Waruguru, which was widely rebuked, told off Kirinyaga Governor Ann Waiguru for campaigning for an initiative to amend the Constitution rather than focusing on her marriage and getting a baby. Being a mother means there is no space for politics, that it should be one or the other.