Fury as pregnant police officers are transferred

Sunday July 6 2014

Police officers man security at Parliament last week. This followed the

Police officers man security at Parliament last week. This followed the smuggling into the House two pigs by two youth. Security in Kampala and neighbouring places has been tightened following terror alerts. Photo by Geoffrey Sseruyange 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

“Let’s face the truth; pregnancy is one of those agonising times in your life where everything is changing,” a female police officer told me in a private chat last week just after four female officers had been transferred from Parliament due to pregnancy.

“I feel sorry for my colleagues at Parliament but let’s face the truth. Allowing pregnant police officers to stand all day with tight pants and the gun belt can be dangerous. They can be assigned light duties in the administration,” she said, adding that being a pregnant officer, whether in the military or police, is in its own, “a unique animal”.

One of the reasons pregnancy becomes a big deal at work, she said, is because it’s a very personal, life-changing event, it’s a bit mysterious, and it’s often misunderstood.

Fatimah (not her real name) is now a mother of two. She recalls how she used to get all kinds of reactions from fellow officers at the Criminal Intelligence Department (currently, the Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Directorate) —some positive and some negative.

She told me how her workmates were not even sure whether to congratulate her or to tell her that she was gaining weight.
“I don’t know whether those ‘girls’ at Parliament are being assigned lighter duties, but if that’s not the case, let the authorities know that it’s not proper to treat pregnant police officers as if they have some sort of disability or communicable disease,” she said.

Clerk writes to Kayihura
After Parliament Watch last week pointed out the security gaps in Parliament amid growing terror threats and ferocious attacks on other political installations around the world, police authorities have stepped up security in a disputed reshuffle criticised by feminists as insensitive yet defended by police authorities as a curative security measure.

Trouble started after the Clerk to Parliament, Ms Jane Kibirige, writing on behalf of the Parliamentary Commission, in a July 2 letter to police boss, Gen Kale Kayihura, protested the transfer of the four female police officers. Ms Kibirige said the officers were expectant and, therefore, unable to perform strenuous operational duties at Parliament. She said the reason for the transfer was “unfair”, against human rights and unconstitutional. Ms Kibirige requested that they are returned and given lighter duties.

Police statement
The police in a statement issued on Wednesday, however, denied claims that the female police officers were unfairly transferred from Parliament. They called this disputed reshuffle, “a normal transfer” to enhance and uphold effectiveness and efficiency at the places of work.

According to the police authorities, the pregnant officers were assigned lighter duties and that light duty assignments include a transfer to different duties or a modification in current duties.
Police spokesman Fred Enanga explained that the expectant officers may not wear uniform since the belt could affect the unborn baby, adding that the officers had been taken to the department of women Affairs at police headquarters in Naguru.

The police said they are mindful of the need to have police visibility and that a pregnant officer guarding Parliament clearly may not help the recent incidences or similar ones occurring in sensitive places.

However, Kyotera MP, Haruna Kyeyune, Mr Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga) and Uganda Women Parliamentary Association members, said a pregnant officer should not be forced into a light duty assignment against her will if she is physically able to safely perform her current assignment.

For some legislators, if the department provides light duty assignments for other employees who have non-service related temporary disabilities, then police authorities are required by law to provide the same assignments for pregnant employees.
Feminists speak out
While internal matters of the police force are a preserve of the Inspector General of Police, the feminists in Parliament peg their reasoning on the fact that that the best light duty policies are flexible; have no time limit on how long a pregnant woman can be assigned to light duty; leave the decision as to when to commence a light duty assignment with the pregnant officer and her physician; and stipulate that officers on light duty will continue to receive normal promotion and pay increases while in that status, and that retirement benefits will not be affected.

Quoting Maternity Guide for Women Police Officers in developed countries like the UK, Afande Fatimah explains that women police officers do not have exactly the same rights at work as women employees.

She said there is need to provide expectant and lactating corps with suitable alternative work (at the same rate of pay); or if that is not feasible, send them on what she calls, “paid maternity safety leave”.