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August 25, 2019



August 25, 2019

The speaker of the New Zealand parliament took the baby of an MP onto his lap and fed it during a parliament debate. The gesture is being lauded around the world both for his practical acceptance of the baby in the legislature while the child’s father performed his duties. The gesture is an especially important one for us in Pakistan where working mothers face enormous challenges. Women working in factories or as domestic workers often have almost no childcare options if they are unable to fall back on female family members. Despite labour laws, childcare facilities simply do not exist at most workplaces, even those based in tall office blocks. Women must manage as they can, some carrying their babies as they do manual labour and others attempting to somehow balance a day at office with the needs of a young child who must be fed, cared for and entertained.

We saw a furore a few months back over a child’s presence in an assembly after MPA Mahjabeen Shireen of the Balochistan Assembly was asked to leave the chamber by the speaker since she had brought her young child, who was not well, to work with her rather than miss a day of legislative duty. The speaker should of course have acted like his New Zealand counterpart and offered whatever assistance he was capable of; obviously he did not do that. Mahjabeen’s case and her protest over the issue eventually led to the Balochistan Assembly promising to set up a childcare centre on its premises and orders going out to other government offices in the province to do the same. But we will have to see if this actually happens and how well these centres are maintained. At present, most mothers who work do so with minimal support from employers. This is especially true of those engaged at brick kilns and workshops and in the informal labour sector, watched over by male floor managers with no understanding of their situation or the need to set good precedents and accept that parenthood needs to be respected at all places rather than turned into a handicap for the woman – and in other countries men too – who is forced to see her child as a burden even though her work is imperative to supporting all of her family.

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