I stood up to my boss against harassing me for being pregnant

Amwik Executive Director Judie Kaberia. She is happy she had the courage to tell off her male boss for harassing her while she was pregnant.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Amwik Executive Director Judie Kaberia's pregnancy was a source of ridicule and mockery from her boss when she worked as a reporter.
  • Being the reporter who was designated to always cover the Head of State, failing to go to the field would put her job on the line.
  • She confronted her boss in the office, in front of other colleagues; eventually giving way to a maternity policy in the organisation.

When Judie Kaberia got pregnant while working as a journalist in one of the country’s media houses, she was elated about becoming a mother.

She was, however, taken aback when the pregnancy soon became a source of ridicule and mockery from her boss.

So powerful was her then boss that she did not know how best to handle the unexpected onslaught from him regarding her pregnancy.

“Every morning the boss would come to my desk and harass me. He would ask me why I got pregnant, hence, unable to work effectively. He would tell me that I would not be sent to the field due my condition, which was not good for the company. This would hurt me so much. Initially, I had no courage to tell him off,” says Ms Kaberia.

As her pregnancy progressed, she could no longer go to the field, for obvious reasons, a thing that put her on the warpath with her bosses.

Being the reporter who was designated to always cover the Head of State, failing to go to the field would put her job on the line.

“One day, the late President Mwai Kibaki had a function at Bomas of Kenya but I did not go due to my condition. That did not go well with my bosses and I ended up receiving more than 10 emails asking me to explain why I had not covered the president. It felt like the end for me,” she says.

My pregnancy

After this episode, Ms Kaberia tells Nation.Africa that she vowed to confront her boss if he ever made fun about her pregnancy again.

“As usual, he came to my desk but he faced my wrath that day. I told him I had had enough of him, and I did not like the comments he had been making about my pregnancy and the baby. He was surprised that I confronted him in the office, in front of other colleagues, no one had ever done that,” she says.

Following this altercations, Ms Kaberia says the boss went to the news editor to seek advice on how best to handle the matter as she (Ms Kaberia) was now crying.

She took her bag and immediately went home after the confrontation. She knew she had lost her job.

The journalist was, however, shocked when in the evening the boss came to her house and apologized. He in fact begged her to go back to work.

“He said he was sorry about what he had been saying about me and my pregnancy, and asked me to go back to work the following day. He then asked me to tell him what I wanted changed. I told him that if I was to go back to work, the organisation has to put in place a maternity policy, which was lacking,” she says.

Maternity policy

Looking back, the Association of Media Women in Kenya (Amwik) Executive Director says she is happy she had the courage to tell her then boss off, as it yielded fruit for other female staff.

A maternity policy, which she says provided that all expectant mothers enjoy a three-month paid maternity leave, was developed. The policy, which ensured their jobs were secure while they were away, also allowed reporters who are more than six months pregnant, to always be allocated duties in the newsroom, not in the field as had been the case.

Ms Kaberia says that prior to the policy, they were always warned not to get pregnant during an election year as they would not get any leave.

“I know at least two female journalist who left leading media houses after getting pregnant. They went for maternity leave and when they came back, their jobs had been taken over by other people,” she notes.

She says it is sad that some media houses consider journalists who fall pregnant non-productive, and a liability to the company.

She urges female journalists to always stand up for their rights whenever faced with difficult situations that among others, border on discrimination and harassment.

A 2020 study found that pregnancy stereotypes can put women in physical danger at work.

The study published in the journal Work & Stress indicated that if a woman who becomes pregnant fears that she may be stereotyped in her workplace, she was likely to suffer a workplace accident.

The researchers surveyed about 200 women throughout their pregnancies, from the year 2016.

Women journalists are often subjected to threats and attacks in the course of their work. They often suffer from rape, sexual assault, death and rape threats, and sexual harassment to trolling, gendered hate speech, disinformation, smear campaigns and threats to family members.

Last year, Irene Khan, the UN expert on freedom of opinion and expression said the attacks on women journalists are intended to intimidate, silence and drive them out of the public sphere, and are a blatant violation of freedom of expression and the right of public participation.

“While both male and female journalists are exposed to violence and threats to their safety in retaliation for their work, attacks on the women are gender-based and highly sexualised online and offline,” said Irene Khan.