DUBAI // Women working in government are demanding the creation of childcare facilities in office buildings two years after a federal law made the provision of nurseries in the public sector compulsory. The Dubai Women's Establishment (DWE) says the law, introduced in June 2006, has not been acted upon by all government ministries and authorities in the country. Members of the DWE want a deadline set for the start of 2009, but most ministries say they will not be able to meet the target.
Most public sector agencies which have yet to provide childcare facilities blame a lack of space. "We want to help the working woman find a balance between work and life," said Maitha al Shamsi, the president of DWE. "Before, once women hit their thirties they would give up work and stay at home looking after the family. "Yet today many women want to continue working." Childcare facilities must be set up by law in any government institution that has more than 50 women employees, or has more than 20 children under the age of four between female employees.
"The Emirati woman feels torn - her country is telling her to come out and work and be part of the construction of the nation, while media tells her it is important to be a part of a child's early development," Mrs Shamsi said. "The day care centre enables her to bring her child with her to work, attend her business, and check on her child when possible." According to research gathered by the DWE, 65 per cent of government employees are women. More women are working after having children because high inflation and rising expenses have made dual-income households a necessity, the DWE's research found, after surveying 26 government departments, questioning managers and employees.
As a result, the DWE has launched a campaign - the Corporate Child Care Project - to publicise the lack of childcare centres for working mothers. The institute is calling for day care centres for children to abide by the best international standards, with large open spaces and high health and safety standards. The DWE is working with two government agencies to run pilot programmes, due to be in operation by the end of the year, to demonstrate how the centres should be run.
To preserve National culture and identity for the children, Arab women should be employed to take care of the children, the DWE says. "It is important that children grow up understanding the language and culture from an early age, and this is being lost by mothers who work and leave their children at home with the maid or foreign help," said Mrs Shamsi. "The children need to be around someone they can identify with culturally, linguistically and visually."
The local women working at the centre will be enrolled in an intensive three to six-month training course. Many mothers find their children are less exposed to their own cultures because they are left with non-local help. They grow up fluent in English, but speaking pidgin Arabic. In addition, due to the lack of contact and the minimal time spent with their parents, they identify more with their carers.
According to the DWE's research, 21 of the 26 government departments surveyed said they did not have the space for childcare facilities. Three said they would be able to open a centre by next year, another five by 2010, eight by 2011 and the final 10 by 2012. When asked to identify the main challenges they faced that might prevent them starting a nursery, 34 per cent said they did not know how to do it and 23 per cent said space was an issue.
"We are currently delaying this programme at the moment because of space," said Athra al Hajri of the Awqaf and Minor Affairs Foundation. "Once we move to our new buildings at the start of 2009, we will introduce it. "When we asked our employees for their feedback, a large majority responded positively, saying they wanted it." These sentiments were echoed in the Department of Naturalisation and Residency. Shaikha Thani, the human resources planning manager, said a large majority of employees placed their children in nurseries outside work, which cost time because of traffic and caused problems when the child was sick.
"Most of our employees are women, and they all want this programme brought in," she said. "We are planning on expanding our building, so by next year we should be able to have the programme." The day care centre will allow women time to spend time with their children without interrupting their business day. For example, according to the law, women are allowed up to two hours a day for breast-feeding. "This can now be done with the centre," said Mrs Shamsi. "Also, how many times have mothers been called home for some emergency or another regarding their child?
"Mothers will be able to perform better in the workplace not only knowing that their child is nearby, but also knowing that their employer is taking care of their needs," said Mrs Shamsi. "We have a small national population here in the UAE and we cannot afford to have the women not working. This initiative further proves to women that they can have both a professional career and a personal life."