PRIMARY ASSIGNMENT

When I started my National Youth Service in Ibadan, my daughter was just six months old. On the day we (medical personnel) were to report at the secretariat and meet some of the officials, I carried her with me as I was sure it would only be a 30-minute to 1-hour meeting. After waiting for a short while at the clinic, we were called into the office of the deputy coordinator of the Oyo state chapter of the NYSC.

We were greeted and welcomed by a middle aged woman whose smiles revealed a sparkling white set of teeth. The moment she spotted me, her countenance changed. If she had removed her tinted spectacles, I’m sure her conjuctiva would have turned red.
‘Why are you wearing this?’, she screamed; apparently referring to the white hijab I was wearing on my NYSC kit, as opposed to the fez cap everyone else wore.
‘And your baby’, she continued in rage, ‘don’t you have the sense to keep her somewhere before coming here?’.

I looked at the ceiling and the floor. Then I looked around and saw pity and sympathy written all over my colleagues’ faces. I was the only muslim among them, but they all felt bad for me. I saw one of them placing her index finger on her closed lips, as if advising me not to respond. Me ke! Respond?! I have phobia for  challenging any form of authority, so, responding was out of my options at that time. I kept quiet until she finished ranting. She then warned me never to bring my baby to work again, and to trim my hijab so that it wouldn’t exceed the level of my shoulders.

I still had more encounters with her throughout the service year, but I’m not here to talk about her. The issue of hijab is not even my greatest pain (I get that attitude regularly, even at home). My question is: when did having a baby become an impediment to a successful career? Even the West that brought us this career-oriented life did not and will not molest women because of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. What happened to the global pro-breastfeeding campaigns and baby/child friendly initiatives?

I had my second baby abroad and I carried him to work (yes, in a hospital) for eight months (after the initial 1month maternity leave). Although, this practice was not the norm, everyone encouraged me and even applauded the strength with which I combined my work and being a mum of two.

I’m not saying that every mother should be carrying their children upandan within the workplace, but there are some tangible reasons why some women would have to work outside the home and may have to bring their children along once in a while, without compromising their efficiency. Government and private employers should look into this issue critically. A mother who leaves her child somewhere and goes to work is not necessarily more productive because 80% of her mind might be with the child.

On the flip side, dear women, (and to some extent, men too) your home is your primary assignment. Excuse granted to those who really, really have to work outdoors, but if that job is going to compromise your primary assignment, think twice!!!

“The greatest work you will ever do will be within the walls of your home”
– Harold B. Lee

“A woman is the shepherd of her home, and will be questioned about her herd…”
– Al-Hadith.

Khadijah Sanni-Tijani

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