Pregnant and fired: A Pakistani woman’s workplace dilemma

Pregnant and fired: A Pakistani woman’s workplace dilemma

Organisation: Dawn Media Group (Pakistan)

Publication Date: 04/05/2017

Size of team/newsroom:small


‘How will you juggle work and family life?’ This is an interview question women around the world are all too familiar with. The idea of women balancing a career and motherhood still seems to baffle many. These attitudes are prevalent everywhere, from minimum wage workers to those at the highest level of leadership. In Pakistan, back in 1990, then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto found herself in a fix as she contemplated making her second pregnancy public while she was in office. Today, even as more women enter the urban and rural workspace in Pakistan than ever before, discriminatory practices towards them are still . ‘Pregnant and fired’ takes a closer look at the attitudes around maternity leave, and how women in the modern Pakistani workspace continue to be denied their rights. The Constitution of Pakistan directs the state to ensure “maternity benefits for women in employment…” Yet, many organisations get away with violating rules surrounding maternity leave. With limited checks and balances, implementation remains sporadic across workplaces in the country. A basic three-month paid maternity leave is a luxury. As part of Dawn's coverage for Women's Day, we sought to investigate this disparity. This report turned the spotlight on an unjust approach in Pakistan that perpetuates discrimination against women in the workplace — especially when it comes to small and medium sized organisations. Most women who shared their ordeals with us were too afraid to use their own names; fearing for their jobs many spoke on the condition of their employers not being contacted or questioned. Instances of discrimination kept piling up. Women shared experiences of losing their jobs in response to maternity leave applications. One woman’s boss allegedly went to the extent of suggesting the mother-to-be consider an abortion — she continues to work at the same firm. Then, some stories of supportive workplaces arose. Companies offering up to six months paid maternity leave, providing flexible hours and on-site day-care centres. By highlighting a spectrum of experiences, ultimately, the project attempted to discuss that with increased female participation in the workforce, the country needs to rethink the rights of working women. Based on the feedback the team received, it was encouraging to see this point resonating with a large portion of our readership, based primarily in Pakistan and South Asia, but spread throughout the world.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

This project aimed to be different from the usual ‘Women’s Day’ specials previously done by Dawn, and other publications within Pakistan. ‘Pregnant and fired’ acknowledged the increasing presence of women in the Pakistani workforce, and stressed the need to update policies to reflect this change. We feel that the project’s real strength lies in the variety of accounts featured in the story. As a starting point, we ran a survey on in January asking readers about their experiences with maternity and paternity leave policies of workplaces in Pakistan. 556 readers took the survey; 236 of the respondents were women. This data not only provided us with the insight for the next stages of the research, it was also incorporated as infographics within the story. After being turned down by many women in person, our reporters used secret social media groups for women to find potential subjects. They promised to protect the women’s identity, who only spoke on the condition of anonymity. Our team of five reporters then visited public and private sector companies in three metropolitan cities, Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar, observing the culture and discussing the policies there. A lawyer also provided us with information regarding the law, and how companies are able to get away with violating it. The work did not go unnoticed. Several human rights activists wrote to Dawn congratulating the team, one said that such an extensive report on the subject had not previously been published in the country. A reader in the comments section also lauded the fact that the report also touches upon the attitudes within media organisations, and how difficult things can get for female journalists when they get pregnant. The reader Nauman Shahid said, “…hats off to Dawn,” further adding that most organisations within Pakistan would not critically look at their own industry in this way.

Technologies used for this project:

The visual component of this project was very important. As most women featured in the story were anonymous, we had very few photographs. We thus relied on illustrations. The illustrations were first hand drawn and painted, then treated on Adobe Illustrator and then animated as gifs on Adobe Photoshop. The quantitative data was visualised as charts, small infographics and number boxes using Infogram — an online infographic application. The video was edited on Final Cut Pro. Google Forms was used to conduct the survey.


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