A baby in the house

June 17, 2019

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WHEN MPA Mahjabeen Sheran found herself with no other choice but to bring her eight-month-old baby to a Balochistan Assembly session last month — indeed many working mothers find it difficult to leave their child at home — she never expected to hear taunts from her fellow parliamentarians. On that day, her son was feeling unwell and there was no one to look after him at home. She decided to leave him at the ‘lady’s chamber’ of the provincial house, but the child continued to show signs of distress. Having seen images of international women politicians bringing their children to their workplace — including New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, lauded in Pakistan for her ‘feminine’ style of politics — Ms Sheran thought there would be no issue in her doing the same. On the contrary, she was asked to leave by her colleagues. Video clips of the incident started doing the rounds on mainstream and social media. For a society that ostensibly places so much value on motherhood, it was baffling to witness adult MPs create such a hue and cry over the issue. Fortunately for other women parliamentarians, Ms Sheran did not allow the event to dishearten her. Instead, she galvanised support for a campaign to set up day-care centres in all provincial assemblies and government departments. Thanks to her efforts, the Balochistan Assembly now has its first day-care centre, as Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani decided to establish one last week on the premises of the parliamentary house. The move is laudable, and will hopefully be replicated by others in both the public and private sectors.

As Pakistani society is changing with more and more women entering the workforce, there should be greater understanding of the dilemmas faced by working mothers, and steps should be taken to accommodate rather than discourage them. As tweeted by Ms Sheran herself: “Women restricted to ‘chardeewari’ is [a] thing of the past… Day-care centres aren’t a luxury, they are a necessity!”

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2019