In search of a delicate balance

March 10, 2012 - 12:12:05 am



As an increasing number of Qatar women are joining the workforce — a trend consistent with their rising educational attainment — the call for crèches at workplace, especially in the government sector, is gaining ground.

But the Qatari community as a whole appears to be divided on the issue as not many men, in particular, are in favour of the idea and argue that it would adversely impact working women’s productivity and distract them from work.

It is interesting to note that the Central Municipal Council (CMC) which has recently debated the matter and decided to refer it to its services committee for its recommendations, itself remains sharply divided on the issue.

The proposal to have a discussion on the issue in the CMC was tabled by its lone female member, Sheikha Al Jefairi who said she was being ‘pressed’ by a rising number of working women to raise the matter in the House.

And the House has though, referred the matter to its key services panel, the head of the panel, Jassem Al Malki says that though they would forward recommendations to the state authorities concerned, he was personally not in favour of crèches at workplace.

Women are great achievers when it comes to balancing work and family. The question becomes more relevant when a working woman considers having a baby. Finding the time to bring up the child, bestowing proper attention on its wellbeing, even while managing to stick on to her profession is a formidable challenge.

Some wonder whether leaving their children in someone else’s care for the sake of their career is advisable. Does one quit or take a career break to take care of a newborn?

For different reasons, some continue to work and are often caught between doing justice to one’s parental obligations and the job at the same time.

The local custom is that children are taken care of at home. This is also the case in many Western families; not everyone uses childcare services. Many people in the West do not like crèches since they believe only families should care for the children.

However, in countries with more social support systems, crèches are just one support among many a working parent. In addition to crèches, working parents are given time off to care for their children.

Qatar in its National Vision 2030 calls for enhanced capacities and more prominent societal roles for women, and the National Development Strategy (2011–16) is seeking to improve on the gains already made by women in recent years.

More Qatari women are joining the labour force, a trend that is consistent with women’s rising educational attainment. As learning opportunities continue to increase, women’s participation in the workforce will also increase. By 2016, the government expects Qatar’s female labour force participation rate to reach 42 percent.

To be better prepared for this cultural shift, the government has taken numerous measures.

One such measure is to enable women participate and remain in the labour market and it is intrinsically linked to the support available to help women balance their family and professional responsibilities.

Therefore, the government has plans to improve support for working families, particularly for women, by expanding childcare facilities and family-friendly employment practices and to encourage gender-sensitive working environments. Kindergartens and workplace nurseries are operational, but they are to be enhanced, while the number of private and public day nurseries and kindergartens will be increased.

The nurseries were earlier monitored by the Ministry of Education and later by the Supreme Education Council (SEC). But they now fall under the Social Affairs Ministry.

Shifting the responsibility of day-care nurseries from the SEC to the Ministry of Social Affairs will allow a more comprehensive plan to be drawn up for implementation to help improve workplace childcare.

A new legislation has set minimum standards for nurseries and kindergartens and ensures that their staff members are suitably qualified.

The government will also build on best practices from other countries to adopt more family-friendly work measures, such as flexible time, part-time and special leave.

A female worker who has been employed for a full year shall be entitled to maternity leave with full pay for a period of 50 days, says the labour law. Such maternity leave shall include the period before and after the delivery provided that the period following the delivery shall not be less than 35 days.

This leave shall be granted subject to a medical certificate issued by a licensed physician stating the probable date of delivery.

If the remaining period of the leave after delivery is less than 30 days the female worker may be granted a complementary leave from her annual leave. Otherwise the complementary period shall be deemed to be a leave without pay.

But the National Health Strategy in its professed goals about women and child health specifies about a revision of maternity leave and asks to increase its length to six months.

Meanwhile, experts, citizens, working mothers and people in expatriate communities share mixed views on the proposal of creating crèches at workplace.

Farida Al Obaidly, Director of Qatar Foundation for Protection of Women and Children says that crèches at workplace would reduce the stress of working mothers to a great extent and few institutions in the country are successfully having the facility.

“This should be established in workplace because it provides the working woman with psychological support and save time than going home to feed the baby. It’s better than leaving the baby with a nanny or housemaid,” she said.

“Places like Qatar University and Qatari Diar are successfully running crèches.”

She says that crèches should not only be established in government institutions but also in private companies. “The concern should be about the mother and child, not whether they are Qatari or expatriate or working for which company,” Al Obaidly said.

Abeer Al Emadi, a Qatari working mother of four children, said: “My children were with my mother-in-law when they were small and I had to come to work. But this idea of establishing crèches at workplace is ideal. People might say it will distract from work, but proper arrangements could be done for this,”

“I would like to feed my child, than having my coffee during the break,” she said.

Saranya Michele, an expatriate mother of a three-year-old shared a different view: “I got a career break for two years after my daughter was born. So I could look after the child well and pay my complete attention to her. Leaving the child at home or workplace crèches can make no big difference. Now she goes to the nursery and I have commenced work.”

Daycare or crèches appeared in France about 1840, and the Société des Crèches was recognised by the French government in 1869. Originating in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th century, day cares were established in the United States by private charities in the 1850s, the first being the New York Day Nursery in 1854. From then it has worked as a place where childcare is provided in nurseries or crèches or by a nanny or family childcare provider caring for children in their own homes. It can also take on a more formal structure, with education, child development, discipline and even preschool education falling into the fold of service.

In Qatar, taking advantage of the exploding population and the fact that an increasing number of married women — both nationals and expatriates — now preferring to work, a number of crèches and play schools have come up in the country over the past few years.

Working couples are forced to put their small children in the mushrooming crèches as a vast majority of them can hardly afford baby sitters at home.

The smaller ones charging up to QR500 a month are mostly run by Asian housewives.

There are bigger nurseries as well but their monthly charges start from no less than QR2,000 and vary up to as much as QR3,800, depending on the quality.

The prestigious ones that are licensed with all facilities have long waiting lists besides the fact that their registration charges alone are prohibitive.

Working couples leave their children aged merely 40 days to four years at nurseries.

If the country is to establish workplace crèches it will need to determine childcare programme size, age groupings and staffing, analyse remodelling current facilities vs building a new on-site daycare facility, consulting with architects, builders, designers to ensure the on-site daycare facility is developmentally appropriate and will comply with all licensing regulations and laws.

It should also have to look for appropriate indoor and outdoor equipment, planning food service requirements and procedures and most importantly total anticipated start-up and on-going costs. Even if it meets all required standards, crèches definitely have a sociological and psychological impact on the child, family and the society.

“Capitalist societies like crèches because this enables parents to keep working with minimal disruptions due to children. This gets maximum productivity out of parents,” said Dr Byrad Yyelland, Director of Liberal Arts & Sciences at VCUQatar.

“I would think many local families do not have the need because they have domestic help to care for their children, and I see many expatriates in the same situation. However, Qataris are excited about modern activities and this is a modern activity in thriving capitalist societies. Plus, there are some expatriate families who struggle finding childcare and would benefit from crèches.”

However, crèches in general or particularity at workplace would not ever become a predominant fixture of Qatar, Dr Byrad, explained.

The Peninsula