Working mothers – 18 May 2023

Away from the madding politics of the country, the National Assembly has passed the laudable Maternity and Paternity Act 2020 which promises great relief for working women who usually have to choose between starting a family and continuing their career. Such initiatives are important for a country that already faces acute economic challenges. Data from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) shows at least 20.73 per cent women comprise our work force – against the global average of 50.13 per cent. Several studies by the International Labour Organization (ILO) reveal that childcare often forces Pakistani women to leave work. The recently passed law, which applies to Islamabad for now, provides six months of paid leaves to first-time mothers and 30-day leaves to fathers. This will help parents focus on their family more efficiently without constantly worrying about their careers. But the mere passing of the law will not help working women much. Many workers in the country are employed in the informal sector that often uses temporary work contracts to absolve themselves of any responsibilities. There are many private companies that still do not offer women paid maternity leaves and most women rejoin office usually a month after their delivery. While most first-time mothers try to manage their responsibilities as efficiently as possible, most of them finally take the hard decision of leaving the workforce. This also happens because both small and large companies rarely offer daycare facilities to its workers. Also, private childcare centres cost an arm and a leg, and women prefer to assume the role of stay-at-home mothers.

Over the years, however, there has been an increase in the number of informal women-run businesses in the country. These initiatives are mostly driven by necessity and only let the sole entrepreneur have decent earnings to run her household. And this necessity arises because of job scarcity in the market for women who may opt for flexible hours to balance job and child’s care. With the new law, there is some hope that industries will be more inclusive for women and not leave them to make arrangements on their own. Apart from offering paid leaves, the government should also convince employers to set up daycare centres at their workplaces so that women can return to the workforce with much more confidence and stress-free.

It is hoped that workplaces across Pakistan will include inclusive and women-friendly policies to ensure that a woman’s careers are not reduced to an either/or situation. The absence and non-inclusion of skilled workers in the workforce will come at a heavy cost for the economy. Pakistan cannot continue to push workers away and must devise better policies to encourage women to remain a vital part of the workforce. And may one also hope for a time when mothers are not seen as the sole caregivers for children. Equal nurture care by both parents may help mitigate some of the challenges working mothers face.

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