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Creating office spaces that empower mothers

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Creating office spaces that empower mothers

Breastfeeding women need both time and a private space to express breastmilk at work, which can be uncomfortable when lactation rooms aren’t specifically designed around the physical and physiological needs of breast pumping. But what if the rooms were designed by the very people who use it?

The Breastfeeding Mothers Bill requires employers to provide breastfeeding mothers with the time and space to freely express breastmilk, prescribes minimum standards for lactation stations and introduces penalties for non-compliant employers.

However, since 2019 when the bill was introduced to the National Assembly, only a handful of companies have implemented it. 

Most breastfeeding mothers still find themselves after their three-month leave being forced to express milk for their infants in cars, washrooms or empty boardrooms. 

According to a World Health Organisation report, most of the 39 per cent of Kenyan breastfeeding women who return to work early lack conducive environments to express and store milk in the workplace or even opt to use formula milk, instead of the more superior breast milk.

A lack of a place to pump can contribute to a woman’s decision to stop breastfeeding her child, which compromises a child’s immunity increasing the chances of the baby getting sick.

What if experts in the architecture and design world joined forces to ensure lactation rooms become the norm in every workplace?

Women In Real Estate (WIRE) in partnership with the National Construction Authority (NCA) recently asked students in the built environment to design a lactation room in a challenge dubbed ‘Virtual Mother’s Room Design Competition’ to promote comfortability and dignity of new mothers.

Kwale County Woman Representative Zulekha Hassan flanked by the winning students  Samuel Gitonga and Elizabeth Mwangi and NCA officials during the launch of NCA’s Mothers Room at its Upper Hill headquarters. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

 The room also needed to meet the requirements of the Health Act 2017 and the proposed Breastfeeding Mothers Bill 2017 to be implementation at NCA offices.

“It is not only the mother and child who benefit from lactation rooms, companies that invest in this strategy also benefit from less absenteeism, as breastfed children get sick less often,” notes Robyn Emerson, WIRE president, adding, “Greater adherence to working due to the provided comfort and appreciation of women’s needs, which cuts the cost of hiring and training of new employees; and a positive company image.” 

Samuel Gitonga and Elizabeth Mwangi both graduates of Nairobi University, who won the competition describe the project as one of a kind project that they believe will make a difference in the country.

“We think the competition was significant because it represents a shift towards inclusive architecture that takes into consideration the needs of various minority groups, such as women, who have recently taken over the office space.

Other minority groups, such as the disabled, the blind, Muslims *who require to pray during the day also need to be accommodated in buildings and this is the first step in that direction,” explains Samuel. 

Several studies show women with access to workplace supports, such as a space for lactation, adequate breastfeeding breaks, and comprehensive lactation support programmes are more likely to exclusively breastfeed six months after birth and have higher job satisfaction and job commitment than women without these supports.

“Urban planners must be deliberate on creating healthy living spaces. Beyond planning and providing for large buildings and infrastructure, professionals must ensure that social and functional spaces are provided for.

Clauses in the physical planning handbook and building code should make it compulsory for developers to provide for lactation rooms in both residential and work places,” says Juliet Rita Chairperson of Town Planners Chapter at Architectural Association of Kenya.

Currently WIRE is working with the Nairobi county government to open up a lactation area in the government office.

They are using various means to ensure that more companies and government offices set up such rooms for mothers. 

“Our plan is to create more awareness on the need for well-designed lactation places. 

We are also calling to action workplaces to provide lactation places.  Lastly we are sensitising students and professionals in the built industry on the need to design and build inclusive structures that provide safe spaces for women and children,” says Emerson.

In summary

Original Source Website: : https://www.pd.co.ke/business/creating-office-spaces-that-empower-mothers-71321/

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