Childbirth ordinarily brings joy to new mothers but for women working in flower farms, it signals pain and sorrow.
These women have to make the painful choice of either becoming mothers or losing their jobs.
Apart from the challenge of being unable to go on maternity leave, breastfeeding breaks challenges and lack of crèche facilities in most farms for use by nursing mothers remain gaps in making the workplace environment supportive and comfortable.
VIOLATION OF RIGHTS
This gross violation of women's rights was one of the issues raised by Kenya, Rwanda and Ugandan organisations at the ongoing United Nations 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York.
Gender and human rights advocates attending the CSW meeting that runs from 11 to 22 March said that while breastfeeding breaks are allowed in the flower farms, the challenge lies in making it possible for women to enjoy this right as there are no crèche facilities and hence they have to travel long distances to their settlements and no transportation is offered for this.
This makes many women forfeit those breaks.
This is happening against the backdrop of the employment law which provides for maternity leave for women in Kenya. The law is clear that women do not have to forfeit their annual leave to take care of their babies.
These issues were shared at a meeting organised by Hivos and Akina Mama wa Afrika at the CSW meeting.
Speaking at the meeting, Mary Kambo, a legal expert at the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) said the situation is even worse for women who lose babies in child-birth.
"Our laws are quiet on some very important issues," she noted. "Take for instance the issue of child health. When a mother loses a baby, the employer in reality expects the woman worker to report back to work immediately as the law remains silent on what should happen."
CRITICAL SOCIAL ISSUES
Issues of maternity protection, experts have said, are critical social issues with far reaching effects on the productivity of female flower farm workers.
According to Virginia Munyua, the [email protected] campaign manager, Hivos and partners in East Africa are running a campaign aimed to improve for better work conditions for women in the horticulture sector by ensuring adoption of gender-responsive institutional policies.
In her opening remarks during the side event, Ms Munyua stated that the experiences of women in the cut flower sector are unique but similar in the region - and that women are the majority of workers in the sector.
They account for 75 to 80 per cent of the workforce and yet their jobs are the least paying and the most insecure.
The campaign is being done through collaboration with different sector players, especially front- runner farms in the region. It is seeking to ensure adoption of progressive gender policies providing for better maternity protection for women workers, policies that advance safe workspaces and in ensuring women ascension to leadership positions where they can influence the policies and their implementation at work places.
A 2012 study conducted by KHRC titled Wilting in Bloom articulated the many challenges that women working in flower farms face.
Six years later, the situation remains the same.