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May 25, 2019

A place for mothers


May 25, 2019

Legislative assemblies are places where examples should be set and models presented for the rest of the country to follow in various spheres. Accepting that women as mothers must be enabled in combining this role with that of a working woman, a legislator or a person engaging in other activities must be accepted. Members of the Balochistan Assembly failed to do this when they forced MPA Mahjabeen Sheeran to leave the assembly after she brought her small child into the chamber with her, rather than miss the session and thereby fail the people she represents. Other parliamentarians around the world have demonstrated a greater ability to accept the necessarily diverse roles that women must adopt. The much adored Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, has brought her own child into the chamber she leads without any semblance of protest. Other female parliamentarians have done the same.

And, indeed, they must be encouraged to do so, to build a better understanding of how many tasks many women have to juggle through their careers. Of course, the provision of childcare at working places including parliament is most essential to support these women. Mahjabeen Sheeran had requested that a spare room in the Balochistan Assembly be used for this purpose, but permission was not granted. In a setup where men dominate, this is hardly surprising. There is a childcare centre at the National Assembly in Islamabad, and this should serve as a model for others to follow. There are little details available on how often this facility has been used and by whom. A significant proportion of the women who make their way to our assemblies may be able to afford childcare. But we must remember that across the country, at all working places, there are many millions who cannot do the same and even in our assemblies not every female representative should be expected to make arrangements for her children.

There is also a dual trap laid here. When women do leave their children, they are criticised for this. When they bring them to public places or working environments, they are criticised just the same. There is, it seems, no way of winning those who are quick to criticise but as men have never faced a similar situation themselves. An excellent example of motherhood combined with public representation is Benazir Bhutto, whose first child was born as she served in office as prime minister. It is essential that from this lead, steps are taken to ensure women with small children are not discriminated against or discouraged in any way but given all the help they need to ensure they can act both as mothers and as effective legislators.

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