WPK 190616 PAK DAYCARE-1560686361687
Lawmaker Mahjabeen Shireen with her child at the Balochistan Assembly. She was asked to leave for bringing child at work, later she spearheaded the campaign for day care centers. Image Credit: Social media

Islamabad: When lawmaker Mahjabeen Shireen was criticised by fellow legislators for bringing her child to the assembly session last month, she neither ignored her baby nor her professional duties.

In fact, the disapproval made her a trailblazer for women politicians dealing with child care issues as she initiated a campaign to establish day care facilities in all assemblies and government departments.

A month later on June 13, Shireen’s campaign led to the opening of the first day care centre at the Balochistan Assembly building.

Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan said the day care centre has been launched to facilitate women parliamentarians so they can give equal time to their children and work.

Ms Shireen’s effort can help millions of Pakistani parents, especially mothers, to better balance their work and care-giving duties without putting their kid’s future or their own jobs at risk.

- Javeria Siddique, Journalist

“The government would ensure all facilities in the assembly’s day care centre,” said provincial government spokesman Mir Liaquat Ali Shahwani.

The child care centre at the provincial assembly is the first such facility by the local government and also a rarity in other parts of Pakistan.

Women politicians in the province have Balochistan Awami Party member of provincial assembly (MPA) Mahjabeen Shireen to thank for the facility. Shireen was asked to leave the hall when she brought her child to work during the May 2019 session.

“I could not leave my ailing child alone nor could afford to miss the assembly session,” she responded. The MPA decided to follow suit after seeing women politicians in other countries taking their children to parliament sessions. However, she regretted the fact that no one, including women legislators, supported her. Following the backlash, she started the campaign to launch day care facilities in assemblies and government offices.

Initiative hailed

The initiative by the local government has been welcomed by politicians, the media and the general public. Talking to Gulf News, MNA Shaza Fatima Khawaja said that “lack of child care facilities at work forced many Pakistani women to stay at home.” She suggested that “more day centres should be established at all government offices to encourage women to join the workforce and make it convenient for working mothers to take care of their babies.”

Shireen’s cause resonated strongly with working women in the country.

Javeria Siddique, Islamabad-based journalist and author, told Gulf News: “Ms Shireen’s effort can help millions of Pakistani parents, especially mothers, to better balance their work and care-giving duties without putting their kid’s future or their own jobs at risk.”

She said quality child care guarantees a better future for both children and working parents. Javeria suggests all public and private offices should have ‘baby-friendly’ areas, “so that mothers are able to bring and work with the satisfaction that their kids are safe.”

Mandatory at offices

At the same time, a bill was approved by the subcommittee of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights to make it mandatory for every public or private sector office with 25 or more staffers to establish a day care. The Day Care Centres Bill 2019, moved by MNA Shazia Marri, would make it a criminal offence not to have a day care in the workplace and non-compliance could first lead to warning, followed by a fine of Rs100,000 (Dh2,353) and then six months in prison.

In 2017, Pakistan’s parliament opened the first-ever day care centre to allow women parliamentarians achieve work-family balance.

Though women comprise 49 per cent of Pakistan’s population, they constitute only 24 per cent of the labour force. The concept of day care centres was not popular in Pakistan until recently, as couples preferred living in joint families where grandparents help with child care. The tradition, however, is changing with increased participation of women in the workforce.