Kwale Woman Representative Zuleikha Juma Hassan says she has no regrets entering the debating Chamber of the National Assembly on Wednesday with her five-month-old baby girl.
The incident was captured by both local and international media. The Chamber is only reserved for 349 elected and nominated members, the Speaker, three clerks and, of course, the sergeant-at-arms.
Ms Hassan argues that hers was a case of agitating for the issues affecting women, especially the employed, who lack basic amenities like crèches at their workplaces so that they can attend to their children, including by breastfeeding, whenever needed.
She says that she had no intentions whatsoever to go against the Standing Orders, which govern the conduct of MPs, and other persons inside the Chamber or within the precincts of Parliament. The incident coincided with the breastfeeding week, but the mother of three maintains that she was not aware of the occasion.
She says that she has been having problems with who to leave her children, just like any other mother, whenever their nannies call in to say they are sick or have an emergency.
She says she learnt on Tuesday evening that her nanny would not be available. With no intentions of staying at home and miss her parliamentary duties, she resolved to carry the baby to the Chamber. “I had to plan how to drive my point home and, sure enough, it was a success,” Ms Hassan says.
“I said this is enough. Why should I miss work just because I have a baby? This made me reflect that if I don’t do it now, I should forget about it altogether,” she says adding, “I called my hubby and explained to him and he gave me the go-ahead.”
That Wednesday morning, she dressed her baby and set off to work.
“My official car was in Kwale at the time and I decided to take a cab to Bunge,” Ms Hassan said.
With the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) policy on facilitation for lactating MPs and staff of Parliament in place, passing through the heavily guarded gates of Parliament buildings was not a problem.
She later sneaked into the Chambers through the rear entrance, past an absent-minded orderly.
“He tried to block me but it was very late. I was already in the Chamber by the time he was pleading. I went straight to the front row where I wanted the Speaker to notice me easily and started breastfeeding my little angel.”
At the time, temporary Speaker Christopher Omulele (Luanda) was on the chair. “The orderlies came to me in their numbers and requested that I give them the baby. But I told them the baby would cry,” she says.
Mr Omulele later ordered her to leave the Chamber immediately, a thing she terms harsh.
“I believe if it were Mr Muturi, he would have allowed time for other members to have a say on the incident,” she says.
After making her point, she went straight to her house. Later that day, the management of Parliament ordered for the hurried refurbishment of the nursery at Continental House, where MPs have offices. By the end of the day, the room was fully equipped with cots and toys, among other baby items.
The National Assembly Friday night denied claims by the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) that Ms Hassan and her baby were manhandled.
“The Standing Orders obligate the Speaker to order a member who conducts himself or herself in a disorderly manner to leave the Chamber. Ms Hassan left the Chamber in compliance with the Speaker’s directive,” said Clerk Michael Sialai.
In its statement, the LSK through its chairman Allen Waiyaki had condemned what it described as archaic act and termed it as grossly unfair and discriminatory to not only the Member of Parliament but also to the infant.
Mr Sialai said Parliament has facilities for lactating members and staff; baby day care within its precincts and that the rule of law and the Constitution is always upheld.