pregnancySince the dawn of time, giving birth has been celebrated as a joyous occasion synonymous with new beginnings and pride for the parents. It is no surprise that maternal rights are enshrined in one of the most profound articles in the Constitution of Kenya, Article 27, which states that every person is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law. The article further states that the state and a person shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against another person on any ground including, among other grounds, pregnancy. In line with this article, Section 5(3) of the Employment Act of 2007 prohibits discrimination against an employee or prospective employee on grounds of pregnancy. Section 46(a) of the same Act states that a female employee’s pregnancy, or any reason connected with her pregnancy does not constitute fair reason for dismissal or from the imposition of a disciplinary penalty. Article 8 of the Maternity Protection Convention of 2000 which is yet to be ratified by Kenya, prohibits the termination of employment of a woman during her pregnancy or maternity leave where the termination is related to the pregnancy or birth and its consequences or nursing. In spite of all these measures, the experience of many a Kenyan woman who gets pregnant while in employment or is pregnant while seeking employment has been far from ideal.

While a number of employers treat the women in their employ, pregnant or otherwise fairly, some have found devious ways to subvert their obligations under the law. Some of the women I have spoken to have told me that as soon as it became evident that they were pregnant, their employers would do everything in their power to frustrate them. These employers would get rid of staff members whose job was to make things easier for their pregnant colleague or reassign her from a desk job to one which requires a lot of physical exertion. They would make the working conditions incredibly difficult for the women, and some, when possible, had to quit. Some had no option but to carry on working causing them severe complications in their pregnancy. Employers do this in order to avoid any culpability that might befall them were they to terminate a pregnant woman’s employment.

Judy’s is one such story. In June 2014, having just been admitted to the bar, she was employed as an associate advocate at a law firm whose head offices are in Nairobi. She was then informed that she would be sent to work at the Eldoret branch. As a freshly admitted advocate in dire need of practice experience, she had no problem with that. She packed her bags and left her family including her four-year-old son and moved to Eldoret. This was a brand new office and she was tasked with the duties of setting up the office, and engaging new staff. She was the managing associate and the sole advocate in the firm at the Eldoret office and would liaise directly with the partners in Nairobi on the various instructions that they would get. She handled all the marketing, billing and all the litigation work there. The clerk they hired would do all the ground-work. By the end of the year 2015, the firm had almost doubled her salary.

In January 2016, at 3 months pregnant, Judy’s pregnancy became visible. It is worth noting that an employee is under no obligation to reveal their pregnancy to the employer. Article 31 of the Constitution provides that every person has the right to privacy which includes the right not to have information relating to their family or private affairs unnecessarily required or revealed. At this point she disclosed to one of the partners, who frequently visited the Eldoret office, that she was pregnant and would need the appropriate help required to run the firm. Soon after this disclosure, the clerk who did most of the work that involved moving around town, Lands Offices and court was fired. Judy was left to do all the ground-work and attend to all the office matters. When she informed her employers that she was having some health issues as her blood pressure was getting quite high, the employers told her that her family matters were to be dealt with at home with her husband. At the end of that month, Judy did not receive her salary.

The reason the management gave for not paying Judy’s salary was that the firm had not collected enough funds to pay the same. Throughout the period of her pregnancy, Judy did not receive a salary. She had no money coming in to her account and had to attend hospital for pre-natal care aside from everything else she needed as a pregnant woman. This whole time, she was still working under the employ of the law firm. She needed to do something about it. All her calls for help and for the management to fulfil their contractual obligations since she was still entitled to her normal salary were responded to unsatisfactorily. One of the partners once told Judy that she should not complain because he had heard that she has a very rich husband.

In June, Judy decided to go to Nairobi in order for her and the partners to have a face to face conversation. At the meeting, one of the partners gave her a cheque of forty thousand shillings and told her to go give birth, after which they would discuss the issues she had with the firm. She took the cheque and for due diligence, went to NHIF to try and figure out how she would foot her maternity bill. It was then that she found out that her employer had not been remitting anything to NHIF. The firm had an insurance cover for its employees and she went to the insurance company to see if they would cover her cost. She then established that the package was supposed to cover maternity bills but the firm opted out of the same. It was then that she realized that she was on her own.

On the 22nd June, Judy was on record in court for the law firm. On 23rd June, she delivered, via caesarean section, a healthy baby boy and went on maternity leave. Three weeks into her leave, she was informed of a letter waiting for her at the office. She was excited thinking that the partners had finally decided to pay her dues. This was not the case. The letter told her that due to poor business, her position in the Eldoret office had been rendered redundant as of the 1st June 2016. At the same time, the firm was advertising through the Law Society of Kenya website for a position similar to hers. She was given a cheque that covered one month’s salary and let go. She immediately went to her advocates who then sent the firm a demand letter for her fees, severance payment and all her dues legally calculated. The firm responded that they would only admit to three months’ salary, April till June and nothing for the time she was on maternity leave.

Seeking redress for what she was going through, Judy sent an email to the Law Society of Kenya outlining her issues. They did not respond to her. She called the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA Kenya) who informed her that she had to report personally go to their office in Nairobi. She was in Eldoret, recovering from a surgery, with a newborn baby and no job. Having no other recourse, she went on a Facebook rant telling the world about the injustice she was facing because she got pregnant. The partners in the firm saw this rant and called her for a discussion. They then gave her a cheque which only covered a third of what she was owed. In an attempt to share her story, she went to Nation Media who told her that they would only share the same after she files a suit against the firm. As a legal professional, Judy knew that she would be barred from speaking about a matter that was in court. She then got contacts for the Kenya Human Rights Commission who said that they would not handle the matter as it was a gender issue and they referred her to the National Gender and Equality Commission. The Commission said that she needs to lodge a complaint which would then be vetted and heard the next time the commission was sitting which was after two quarters.

The Law Society of Kenya kept pushing her off telling her that the person who was meant to handle the complaint was in a seminar. When she eventually managed to get a hold of someone to assist, she was asked to send a handwritten letter which would then be attached to a demand letter on a Law Society of Kenya letterhead to the firm. At this point, Judy felt defeated. She felt like a forum shopper. The society which she and the partners in the firm were members of and is meant to tackle issues between advocates could not even summon her former employers for mediation or arbitration. They claimed that the matter was contractual and they really couldn’t get in the middle of it.

She was forced to relocate to Nairobi where she had her parents who would help take care of her baby and herself. She has not heard from the law firm since. She is trying to apply for another job, something that is proving to be incredibly difficult as the firm will not give her a certificate of service or a testimonial and she cannot very well use a termination letter to prove that she worked for them.

Judy’s story is just one of many stories of women treated atrociously just because they got pregnant. The systems that are meant to protect them don’t. Employers use these same systems to frustrate women to the extent that the women are completely defeated. Our society is incredibly patriarchal. But we often forget that the women contribute a great deal to it. The miracle of childbirth should be something to be celebrated. It should never be used to frustrate the woman. It should never be used to terminate employment. It is not an inconvenience. It is a beautiful thing.

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feminism_small-00319-year-old Ouma is brutally raped by police officers who are charged with the task of serving and protecting Kenyans. Nairobi County Governor Evans Kidero slaps Women Representative Rachael Shebesh to the glee of quite a number of Kenyans. As at 6 years ago, 16% of women in Kenya still lacked basic literacy skills compared to 9% of men. 95% (1,370 of 1,450) of ward members of county assemblies in Kenya are men. Honorable Malulu Injendi on 21st April 2016 said that the fact that Honorable Janet Nangabo’s (Trans Nzoia MP) hair may have cost KES 10,000 to do means that the women have money as a reason to reject changes to the law setting up a special fund to give all women candidates in the country campaign money in the next election. Women in Kenya are constantly being harassed, discriminated against, disempowered and whenever some of them do get to a point where they are at a position of power, we, the men, refer to them as entitled bitches. I realize that these may seem like incredibly generalized statements, but if we actually took some time to analyse the status quo, we will realize that said statements are actually true.

I therefore write this from a position most men do not want to admit. That of privilege. A privilege stemming from the fact that I was born with a penis and not a vagina. A privilege that affords me opportunities that our womenfolk are not afforded as evidenced from some of the statistics herein. A privilege that assumes that I am the stronger sex. I write this knowing that my masculinity and the society’s perception of it has been used to perpetuate some of the most heinous crimes towards women. The violence and abuse, the lack of equality in pay, the expectation of sexual favors in exchange for promotions at work among other things.

I am a feminist. My particular brand of feminism is one that envisions equality for all women tempered with respect for them. It envisions a world in which our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunties are not viewed as weak. A world in which they will not be denied the opportunities we men have just because they are women. A world in which class is shattered and the voice of the mama mboga in Dandora is heard in the same space as that of the business executive in Lavington. Where we all experience life, not from positions of power but from an understanding that we are all human beings. Where personal moral convictions will not let a woman belittle the struggles of another just because they are queer. Where women are allowed autonomy over their bodies without having the predominantly male controlled state and religion tell them what to do.

Most people say that feminists are anti-men. I say, as a male feminist, I don’t hate men. I love them. As a queer male, I love them even more. I don’t believe that women don’t need men to survive in this society. I believe that as human beings, we need each other. I don’t believe that every man, by virtue of being just that, is an oppressor. I believe that some men have oppressed women. I don’t believe that every woman by virtue of being just that is a victim. I believe that there are some female victims of oppression and I believe that feminism should give these people a voice.

I have said this before and I will say it again. I want to live in a world where no one is treated differently because of something they have no control over. Being born with a vagina or a penis, how one expresses themselves in dress, being of a different sexual orientation or gender identity or belonging to a different social class. A world where we consider the differences in others as something to be celebrated and admired and not vilified and condemned. Where our sisters, mothers, cousins, grandmothers, neighbors and friends can feel safe in the knowledge that the men around them care about their well-being. I am a feminist. No, I do not have a vagina. I will however continue calling out the sexism in our society. I will continue trying all I can to make this world a better place for the women in my life and I will strive to ensure that someday, true equality prevails.

I’m thinking of the women in my life. I know how that may be uncharacteristic of me considering how gay I am but a shirtless picture of me got me thinking of the women in my life. My mother. She put up with my crap both literally all those years ago and figuratively now yet she still loves me. My little sisters Lucy and Suzy. The both of you light up my life in ways you will never understand. Annemarie. My rock. My confidant. My anchor. I love you more than you’ll ever know. Liz. I don’t tell you this enough but you’re awesome! Rhoda, you also put up with a lot of my crap and I still love you for it. Lorna. You are an inspiration. Njoki. Your resilience moves me! Abby. Strong, beautiful, full of life and oh so brilliant. Alexandra. What can I say, you are both brilliant and incredibly beautiful! Florence. You push me to places I never thought I’d ever get and I love you for it. You are not the only ones…just the few that could be mentioned at this time of the night…

Women have to go through so much in their lives. Regardless of class or position. They have to deal with being objectified and when they get empowered, they have to deal with being called a bitch for being empowered. Is this really the world we want to live in? Where people get treated differently because of who they are? Where women are paid less, are mistreated, are viewed as weaker just because they happen to be women? That is not the world I want to live in. And my shirtless toast is to every woman out there. Without you, I wouldn’t exit. Without you, the world would crumble. Without you, we are nothing. Here’s to you! Stay strong!