Crèche programme could be a game-changer for working mothers


Recently, I was part of Kenyatta University vice chancellor’s delegation to Tharaka Nithi County where he met Governor Muthomi Njuki to discuss the partnership between the university and the county government. The partnership will see Kenyatta University Women’s Economic Empowerment (KU-WEE) Hub conduct research to evaluate the effectiveness of the crèche programme initiated at the Chuka market to enable women traders to accomplish the role of childcare and income-generating activities.

In partnership with the Economic Growth Centre-Yale University, the study aims to establish crèches with children’s feeding rooms and mothers’ lactating rooms, and evaluate the effects of the programme on child development, women’s labour force participation and psychosocial well-being of children and mothers.

The researchers will then make policy recommendations, based on evidence, for institutionalisation of the crèche and lactating rooms programme. The primary outcome of the study is improvement of women economic productivity or well-being by 20 per cent through reduced childcare burden in at least five sub-counties in Tharaka Nithi by 2025. Anticipated research outputs will be key in informing governments and other stakeholders at the county, national and regional levels on what works to enhance women’s economic empowerment, particularly through Female Labour force participation.

Biggest hindrances

Besides the involvement of county officials as principal investigators in the hub’s project, the county government of Tharaka Nithi will provide facilitation and provision of a platform for the Randomised Control Trial and a site for testing initiatives that work to improve women’s economic empowerment.

Unpaid care work, including childcare, has been cited as one of the biggest hindrances to women’s economic empowerment in communities across the world. Women and girls take up the bulk of household chores, often missing the opportunity to engage in income generating activities. Partnerships such as the one between Tharaka Nithi County and KU-WEE hub will enable policymakers to utilise credible evidence to ensure that women’s empowerment policies and programmes are backed by what works.

A visit to the market painted a clear picture of what relieving women of the burden of unpaid care work can do. There was a qualified caregiver to watch over the children as their mothers sold fruits, vegetables, and other wares, their happiness written all over their faces. The structure that houses the children is made of transparent glass, making it easy for each mother to keep an eye on her child without having to abandon her trade. The level of hygiene inside the structure is commendable, especially during the Covid-9 pandemic.

It was clear that, with backing from research evidence on what works, the crèche has huge potential to transform women’s labour force participation. What is even more exciting is the prospects it has to be scaled up to not only other parts of Tharaka Nithi, but also the entire country.

Dr Kalangi is a communications trainer and consultant, Kenyatta University