AWAY from the bitter divisiveness on the political front, the National Assembly on Monday enacted laws that will have a salutary effect on a large swathe of the population, and could significantly impact society as a whole if the provinces follow suit and revisit their existing laws on the issues concerned. Take the Maternity and Paternity Leave Bill, 2023, which applies to all public and private establishments under the federal government`s administrative control including companies, factories, autonomous and semi-autonomous organisations, etc, wherever they may be in the country. It allows women up to six months` leave for the birth of their first child, and four and three months on the birth of the second and third child respectively all on full pay. This is a more generous allowance than what was so far available. New fathers will be entitled to a month`s fully paid leave upon the birth of their child, for up to three times during their term of service. The Day Care Centres Act, 2023, mandates all government and private organisations within the Islamabad Capital Territory with at least 70 employees to set up a day care centre on their premises.
Another bill passed by the NA makes educational institutions a more child-friendly space by requiring paramedical staff to be available on the premises of all such institutions in ICT.
Working women here are hampered by stereotyping and bias that imperil their employment, not to mention their aspirations for career advancement. The Global Gender Gap Index Report 2022 ranked Pakistan 145/156 for economic participation and opportunity. According to the ILO, women account for around 22pc of the labour force, one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in South Asia. Among the many barriers are inadequate maternity leave provisions; while such legislation exists across all provinces, it varies considerably. At 16 weeks, Sindh offers the longest leave on maternity grounds while the other provinces offer 14 and 12 weeks. Passing a law stipulating paid paternity leave is also a progressive move, which acknowledges that men too have a role to play in this life event. The lack of day care facilities on the job further facilitates women`s employment, instead of compelling a choice between maternal duties and work. Pakistan cannot afford to lose out on women`s participation in its economic life.