Barred From Assembly For Bringing Child, Balochistan MPA Now Campaigning For Daycare Centres In Govt Departments
A lawmaker who was victimized by her colleagues for bringing her child to assembly is now working towards ending workplace misogyny. In this interview with Ailia Zehra, she describes the events that led to the unfortunate episode and how it encouraged her to work for inclusive workplace.
Balochistan MPA Mahjabeen Sheeran who was asked to leave the assembly for bringing her child has initiated a campaign to push for daycare centres in assemblies and government departments to make them more inclusive for women.
The lawmaker is currently lobbying for a resolution in the Balochistan Assembly and has been in touch with fellow MPAs and the speaker to materialize the idea.
Talking to Naya Daur, she said that the messages of support she received on social media after the unfortunate episode encouraged her to take this initiative. On May 8, Mahjabeen brought her infant child to the assembly session, but she was asked to leave the hall on grounds that the rules prohibit lawmakers from bring their children to the assembly. A number of MPAs also objected to her child’s presence and she eventually left the assembly, teary eyed.
“I usually leave my child at home with a relative, but he was unwell and no one was at home to attend to him so I had no option but to take him with me. I could not leave my ailing child alone and I did not want to miss the assembly session either”, she told Naya Daur.
Mahjabeen had left her son in a chamber in the assembly with a helper while she was attending the session but the child was uncomfortable and appeared to be insistent on being with his mother due to his illness. “When the helper told me he is crying, I saw no option but to bring him in the assembly hall. But as soon as I brought him in, the assembly staff came to me and said it was not allowed”, she says.
The lawmaker argued with the staff that the practice is not disallowed, asking them to show her the law which bans children’s entry to the assembly. She stayed put, but only until a male member of the assembly stood up and came to her, asking her to leave the assembly because the child won’t let the members pay attention to the proceedings. Other members joined him in criticizing Mahjabeen for bringing the child.
Mahjabeen says she was disappointed that no one from the assembly stood up for her when it mattered. But a few days later after the news went viral on social media, some colleagues told her they regretted the incident. “The member who was performing duties of speaker that day also apologized to me and said he would have let me attend the session if he had known of the matter.”
The MPA says she had not expected such a severe reaction from her colleagues because people in Pakistan including lawmakers usually react positively to news about women politicians from other countries bringing their children to work. “Not too long ago the pictures of New Zeland PM Jacinda Ardern and her son at UN General Assembly session were being shared left, right and centre by people here in Pakistan who also praised her for breaking stereotypes. But when women from their own country try to break barriers, they get offended”, she says.
In response to a question, she said that the episode also made her think how bad it must be for women belonging to the working class who cannot afford to hire house help to look after their children when they are away. “Once the plan [of daycare centres in assemblies] sees the light of the day, I will also push for the same in other offices, especially banks.”
Mahjabeen held meetings with the chief minister as well as the assembly secretary after the episode, and pushed them to make arrangements for establishing daycare centres in the assembly and later in all government departments including ministries. “I am in touch with some members of National Assembly and Senate as well and they have vowed to support me in the initiative”, she says.
Mahjabeen feels she was victimized for being a woman because male members of the assembly often get away with violating the regulations. “I have seen several members of the assembly use mobile phones while attending the sessions despite the practice being banned, but no one has ever asked a male member to leave the assembly for violating rules”, she said.