LAHORE: Compared to men, around 70pc of women who graduate from universities drop out of the labour force which restricts their labour force participation rate to 26pc in Pakistan, says Minister Women’s Development Department (WDD) Ashifa Riaz Fatyana.

The labour force participation (LFP) for women is quite dismal. According to the Labour Force Survey in 2013-14, there was only 29pc of women participation in labour in Punjab, compared to 69pc of men. In 2014-15, the statistics were similar– even lower, 28pc for women against 69pc for men.

In Punjab, representation of rural women in 2014-15 was only 36pc while in urban areas, it was drastically low, just 13pc.

The Punjab government during the PML-N had built some daycare centres but the PTI government also included a Working Women’s Hostel Authority.

In an interview with Dawn, Ashifa Riaz says the WDD would establish daycare centres and a Women’s Hostel Authority, which would be mandated to issue licence to private women hostels, ensuring standardised facilities and keeping checks and balances on them for safety and security of women residents.

“Thanks to this regulatory framework, a skilled woman with a need or desire to work will never be discouraged because of the lack of facilities like accommodation and daycare centres,” she claims.

“The hostels, both public and private, will be a secure, affordable and decent living experience for working women.”

Ms Ashifa says it is important for working mothers to find a place where their children are safe and taken care of while they work. The application procedure would be without any red tape and the applicants would find forms on the website of the department and send application to it.

“As many as 113 daycare centres had been approved in total (during the past and current government), and in this tenure, eight new centres have been added to the already existing number. Out of these, 85 have been functioning up till now; however, maintenance has been a major issue,” she adds.

In Punjab, there are about 16 working women hostels which are barely functioning, including four in Lahore and two in Rawalpindi. The rest are spread across the province not more than one in a district.

“There are only 540 beneficiaries of this facility,” says the minister.

“This time we will be collaborating with the private sector to work with us,” she says.

According to a report by the Punjab Commission for Status of Women (PCSW), women aged 16 to 54 were asked about the barriers that they faced while trying to find work. A majority of the women in Punjab are in this age group (around 66pc) and they all quoted at least one factor which was a barrier to their work. Around 41.4pc of these women quoted domestic work/care responsibilities as one barrier and lack of accommodation was a hurdle for around 30pc.

Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE) Executive Director Bushra Khalique says the government seems to be stepping in the right direction because there has always been a demand for daycare centres; however, the government must pay special attention to the way it implements these schemes.

“At present, the working women’s hostels are severely under-utilised,” she says. “They must maintain and improve the performance of the ones already present. Besides, the department must focus on the fact that the locations of both the daycare centres and the women’s hostels must not be limited to just a specific places such as inside the Secretariat or inside educational institutions. Women who work in factories or in downtown areas should also have the facility of daycare etc.”

Real progress, Ms Bushra, adds could not take place until and unless women become economically independent and an active part of the labour force.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2019