By Sania Arif
Last week, Pakistan cricket team captain Bismah Maroof announced that she is taking maternity leave, indefinitely. In a tweet, she said: “I am delighted to announce that I am entering a new chapter in my life as motherhood beckons. I would like to wish the Pakistan women’s team the very best as I take an indefinite break from cricket. Request for prayers and support. Thank you.”
The announcement raised the question about health facilities, especially in terms of maternity leaves to professional women in Pakistan. Observers say the discussion is rare because it is not given due importance in the country.
As per sources, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is likely to introduce its first policy on maternity leave for women cricket players. The PCB is mulling to introduce pregnancy provisions in its central contract for the very first time. The current contract by PCB doesn’t have any specific maternity leaves clause for its cricketers, but it is likely to be amended now. And Bismah Maroof will be the first cricketer to earn her monthly retainer as an ‘A-list’ player. Furthermore, she will also get all medical facilities for free under her contract. Experts have lauded it as a great step by the board.
However, observers note that in other cases and professional fields, there is an almost non-existent concept of maternity leave for women. As per the laws of Pakistan, women are eligible for 12-week maternity paid leave. The extended leaves mostly lead to pay cut or complete dropout from the workforce.
In Pakistan, the gender wage gap is already over 40% and such restriction likely to widen it. As per WageIndicator Labour Law Database, maintained by the Centre for Labour Research, most countries around the world offer 14-17 months as maternity leave, and analysts have urged Pakistan to learn from it.
There was a major update in this regard in Pakistan at the start of 2020. The Senate passed a new maternity bill, presented by Senator Quratulain Marri. According to the bill, women will get six month-leave on the first child, four months on second birth and three months on the third one. As per the bill: “Maternity leave shall in the prescribed manner be granted on full pay outside the leave account to a female employee on her option to the extent of one hundred and eighty days on first birth, one hundred and twenty days on second birth and ninety days on third birth from the date of commencement thereof.” The bill clarified that maternity leave will not be offered after the third childbirth.
“Female employees aren’t given maternity leave in the public sector. Even in the Senate, women are told not to produce so many children,” said Marri. The bill, however, faced opposition from the government. Cabinet minister Hammad Azhar said that “there is always a 90-day maternity leave for women.” This Maternity and Paternity Bill, 2020 was passed by National Assembly in October 2020.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) MNA Shazia Marri said, “Extremely happy and immensely proud to share that two important bills moved by Senator Anny Marri have finally been passed by the NA standing committee on Law and Justice after their passage from Senate. Bills were passed after a year and a half’s hard work.”
Although the bill has been passed by the NA, observers maintain that its implementation is hardly seen in the public or private sector in the country. Like many other policies, it may take years for the proper implementation of this one. The number of married working female is quite low, and since the companies don’t offer any policy regarding it and there is a threat of losing the job. Observers maintain that there are several legal, professional and social hurdles in the proper implementation of this policy, which needs to done by a combined effort of the society.
The author is a freelance journalist