Suraiya Haque

Ashoka Fellow
fellow-11501-3541_BG_headshot_0.jpg
Bangladesh
Fellow Since 1999
This description of Suraiya Haque's work was prepared when Suraiya Haque was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1999 .

Introduction

Suraiya Haque is addressing the issue of work place based day care centers in Bangladesh. She has developed and implemented working models for factories, offices, and community based centers. Her organization also provides training on management of day care centers so that the factories and offices are eventually able to run the centers themselves.

L'idée nouvelle

Urban working mothers, mostly from low-income groups, face great difficulty in terms of accessing child day care services. Most of them are forced to leave their children unattended in their slum dwellings exposing the children to great risk and inadequate nutrition. Mothers also tend to be less productive in the work place as at times they are unable to attend. Suraiya is the first person in Bangladesh to introduce and implement work place based day care centers. Her organization, Phulki, is the only such service-providing agency in the country. Till now she has established 24 community-based day cares and over 15 centers in factories, offices and government departments.
Suraiya's primary focus is on the garment industry, which employs over a million people, mostly women. Providing such support services for women workers is not only essential, but is required by law. Unfortunately, most organizations and enterprises choose to ignore this. Through developing community and work place day care models, Suraiya believes women's access to employment will increase. In addition, their children will be looked after in more secure surroundings. In the community-based day cares, she is involving the fathers who have traditionally been less responsible for childcare. There are monthly meetings with mothers to discuss various issues including cost-effective nutrition.
Suraiya sees the potential and need for spreading the model to other sectors such as NGOs and banking. She has instituted and handed over management of the day care center at BRAC, the largest NGO in the country. In addition, she was responsible for setting up similar centers at the Government Secretariat and the Women Affairs Directorate

Le problème

The Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) ranks countries on the basis of indicators such as women's employment, management, and leadership position. In the 1997 UNDP Human Development Report, the GEM ranked Bangladesh as 144 out of 175 countries. Such a poor ranking indicates the level of difficulties faced by women in Bangladesh in their struggle for empowerment and equality. The Government and national and international development agencies have emphasized the importance of women's economic empowerment for improving their status both at the national and family levels. Bangladesh is one of the first signatory's to CEDAW which addresses the following: a) supportive measures to enable economic access; b) elimination of those forms of discrimination which negatively influence women's health and development which in turn influence children's health and development; c) autonomy; d) information to promote women's nutrition. The constitution of the country specifically ensures equal rights for women in all spheres of life. Furthermore, the Factory Act of 1965 states that anyplace where 50 or more women are employed must provide day care facilities. The State has, however, failed to implement many of these laws and agreements In the traditional rural family structure that still exists today, women are responsible for taking care of the children, the home, and, in many cases, income-generating activities. During the time spent on cooking, collecting firewood and other activities of the mother, the grandparents or some elder member of the family generally assists in taking care of the children. With rapid population growth, poverty, disasters, and other factors, there has been mass migration to urban centers in search of employment. This has resulted in changes in the family structure, particularly in low-income urban families, as elder family members tend to remain in the rural areas. Most of the women in low-income households are employed in the formal and informal sectors. There is no system in place for taking care of the children during their work period. Invariably, the children are left locked inside the slum dwellings with food. In cases where there is an older daughter, the burden of childcare often falls on her at the cost of her own schooling and childhood. Worst of all, the very young are deprived of their mother's milk. For resident domestic work, many women are denied employment if they have a child with them as the respective household feels that this would be troublesome. In higher income groups, families place pressure on the mother to resign from the workplace to take care of the child.
During her many years of work in the social sector, Suraiya observed some agencies providing community day care services for their employees in posh surroundings with high overhead costs. Food, clothing and other services were provided at nominal cost from the parents. Suraiya felt that this approach had two fundamental flaws. First, the program would not be sustainable, as it was dependent on the funding availability of the organization. Second, by providing an environment that was radically different from the low-income group children's home, as well as other benefits such as clothing and food would lead to frustration once the service was unavailable. Suraiya believed that such a service should not be viewed as "just another project" but rather as an integral part of employment. This means that such efforts should be sustainable and involve the different stakeholders.
Suraiya's work is targeted for low-income households as this group faces the greatest difficulty with respect to childcare. In the beginning, Suraiya developed community based day care centers. These were designed for children between the age group of three to five years. Each center has a capacity of 20 children with three ayahs (caretakers). The caretakers are given training on child rearing, hygiene, nutrition and how to handle children. They are placed on probation to assess their capability prior to giving them the letter of employment. The mothers pay a service fee of Taka 40 (US $.80) per month and are responsible for providing food for the children. Every month representatives from Suraiya's organization, Phulki, sit with the mothers to discuss different issues, challenges and difficulties of the program. In addition, they are given information on essential foods that are low in cost but high in nutrition. In many cases, Suraiya observed that it was difficult for the mother to bring the food or pick up the child afterwards. For this, she motivated the fathers to assist in taking care of the child. Sometimes the fathers attend the monthly meetings in place of the mother.
Once the day care centers were established, pressure came from parents to provide similar services for children under three years of age. Two centers were committed for this purpose using the same model. Although the management of the centers progressed well, Suraiya observed that infants were being deprived their mother's milk. Thus, she started developing the concept of setting up day care centers in garment factories since a significant number of the clients are working in this sector. She approached a garment factory owner who was known to her, and with funding from Radda Barnen, the first factory based day care was established. The working model was kept the same as the community based ones in terms of the number of children and caretakers. The owner provided the space and the other costs came from the donor. Phulki ran the day care for three years and then handed control over to the factory management.
Suraiya, from the very beginning of the test model, focused on sustaining the day care centers without donor dependency. Thus, the next one was implemented with the owner providing the space along with start-up costs and caretaker salaries. The mothers, with some contribution from Radda Barnen, brought food for the children. The subsequent day care centers, however, were implemented without any donor support. The space, start-up costs, and caretaker salaries are the responsibility of the factory, and the mothers are responsible for providing food. In addition, mothers have to pay Taka 50 (US $1) to Phulki for managing the center. There are specific timings for breast feeding the children, and the mothers are permitted to take time off from their work for this purpose. Under the agreements with the factories, Phulki manages the center for a period of 6-12 months. The factory can then choose to take over the operations, for which Phulki provides management training. If the factory opts not to take over the day care, Phulki continues its service for a management fee. They are presently managing eight factory-based day care centers with four in the process of being handed over.
There were some initial obstacles faced by Suraiya when implementing the day care centers. The first was gaining the trust of mothers to place their children in such a facility. People thought that maybe the day care center would traffic or kidnap the children. Through community meetings and dialogue she was able to overcome this situation. In terms of the factory, the conceptual acceptance of work place day care is a significant challenge. Owners tend to feel that this would be an unnecessary burden on them. In addition, none of the factories have been designed to accommodate such a program. Almost all of the floor space is designated for production purposes only. The factories that have established day care centers, however, have continued the program as they are directly benefiting from it. Workers who take maternity leave return to work sooner, there is less absenteeism, and production is more efficient. Mothers working at these factories are also satisfied with the arrangements. For example, one such worker, Anwara, has a small child in day care. Although she was previously working in another factory, she decided to change jobs to a factory with a day care center even though she had to take a pay cut of over 50 percent.
In terms of advocacy, Suraiya is conducting both national and international efforts. She was responsible for establishing six day-care centers at the Women Affairs Directorate under the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs funded by DANIDA. Since then, the government has implemented one more in Dhaka City and another five centers in five divisional headquarters. These are presently being operated from the government development budget. The Accountant General of Bangladesh has also set up one. Suraiya was responsible for pushing through the proposal for a day care center at the Secretariat - the administrative headquarter of the government. The authorities initially rejected the proposal. However, she conducted a needs-assessment survey, and then persuaded the respective departments to agree. She has had meetings with the Law Ministry regarding implementation of the Factory Act 1965.
Suraiya is working on involving the Bangladesh Garments Manufacture and Export Association (BGMEA) in the establishment of factory day care centers. She is currently developing an agreement whereby, BGMEA will promote the program among its members and each year assign a certain number of factories to be brought under it. She contacted the Advocacy Institute (USA) for the addresses of major American garment buyers such as Nike, GAP, Reebok, LL Bean, to inquire as to why childcare has not been included in their list of compliance for the factories they purchase from. Reebok has contacted her and said that they would list factories with day care facilities as good factories. Mondial, one of the major European clothing buyers has written to their three suppliers about the day care program. Phulki will soon be starting work with these factories.
Suraiya always tries to explain to factory owners the economic and social benefits of day care programs. She is carrying out a study on this matter, to be done by a volunteer student intern from Harvard University. She hopes that every year 1-2 students from Harvard will be able to come during the summer break and carry out other similar studies. Through these research findings she plans to counter abusive work practices with a strategy that is also economic.

La stratégie

During her many years of work in the social sector, Suraiya observed some agencies providing community day care services for their employees in posh surroundings with high overhead costs. Food, clothing and other services were provided at nominal cost from the parents. Suraiya felt that this approach had two fundamental flaws. First, the program would not be sustainable, as it was dependent on the funding availability of the organization. Second, by providing an environment that was radically different from the low-income group children's home, as well as other benefits such as clothing and food would lead to frustration once the service was unavailable. Suraiya believed that such a service should not be viewed as "just another project" but rather as an integral part of employment. This means that such efforts should be sustainable and involve the different stakeholders. Suraiya's work is targeted for low-income households as this group faces the greatest difficulty with respect to childcare. In the beginning, Suraiya developed community based day care centers. These were designed for children between the age group of three to five years. Each center has a capacity of 20 children with three ayahs (caretakers). The caretakers are given training on child rearing, hygiene, nutrition and how to handle children. They are placed on probation to assess their capability prior to giving them the letter of employment. The mothers pay a service fee of Taka 40 (US $.80) per month and are responsible for providing food for the children. Every month representatives from Suraiya's organization, Phulki, sit with the mothers to discuss different issues, challenges and difficulties of the program. In addition, they are given information on essential foods that are low in cost but high in nutrition. In many cases, Suraiya observed that it was difficult for the mother to bring the food or pick up the child afterwards. For this, she motivated the fathers to assist in taking care of the child. Sometimes the fathers attend the monthly meetings in place of the mother.
Once the day care centers were established, pressure came from parents to provide similar services for children under three years of age. Two centers were committed for this purpose using the same model. Although the management of the centers progressed well, Suraiya observed that infants were being deprived their mother's milk. Thus, she started developing the concept of setting up day care centers in garment factories since a significant number of the clients are working in this sector. She approached a garment factory owner who was known to her, and with funding from Radda Barnen, the first factory based day care was established. The working model was kept the same as the community based ones in terms of the number of children and caretakers. The owner provided the space and the other costs came from the donor. Phulki ran the day care for three years and then handed control over to the factory management.
Suraiya, from the very beginning of the test model, focused on sustaining the day care centers without donor dependency. Thus, the next one was implemented with the owner providing the space along with start-up costs and caretaker salaries. The mothers, with some contribution from Radda Barnen, brought food for the children. The subsequent day care centers, however, were implemented without any donor support. The space, start-up costs, and caretaker salaries are the responsibility of the factory, and the mothers are responsible for providing food. In addition, mothers have to pay Taka 50 (US $1) to Phulki for managing the center. There are specific timings for breast feeding the children, and the mothers are permitted to take time off from their work for this purpose. Under the agreements with the factories, Phulki manages the center for a period of 6-12 months. The factory can then choose to take over the operations, for which Phulki provides management training. If the factory opts not to take over the day care, Phulki continues its service for a management fee. They are presently managing eight factory-based day care centers with four in the process of being handed over.
There were some initial obstacles faced by Suraiya when implementing the day care centers. The first was gaining the trust of mothers to place their children in such a facility. People thought that maybe the day care center would traffic or kidnap the children. Through community meetings and dialogue she was able to overcome this situation. In terms of the factory, the conceptual acceptance of work place day care is a significant challenge. Owners tend to feel that this would be an unnecessary burden on them. In addition, none of the factories have been designed to accommodate such a program. Almost all of the floor space is designated for production purposes only. The factories that have established day care centers, however, have continued the program as they are directly benefiting from it. Workers who take maternity leave return to work sooner, there is less absenteeism, and production is more efficient. Mothers working at these factories are also satisfied with the arrangements. For example, one such worker, Anwara, has a small child in day care. Although she was previously working in another factory, she decided to change jobs to a factory with a day care center even though she had to take a pay cut of over 50 percent.
In terms of advocacy, Suraiya is conducting both national and international efforts. She was responsible for establishing six day-care centers at the Women Affairs Directorate under the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs funded by DANIDA. Since then, the government has implemented one more in Dhaka City and another five centers in five divisional headquarters. These are presently being operated from the government development budget. The Accountant General of Bangladesh has also set up one. Suraiya was responsible for pushing through the proposal for a day care center at the Secretariat - the administrative headquarter of the government. The authorities initially rejected the proposal. However, she conducted a needs-assessment survey, and then persuaded the respective departments to agree. She has had meetings with the Law Ministry regarding implementation of the Factory Act 1965.
Suraiya is working on involving the Bangladesh Garments Manufacture and Export Association (BGMEA) in the establishment of factory day care centers. She is currently developing an agreement whereby, BGMEA will promote the program among its members and each year assign a certain number of factories to be brought under it. She contacted the Advocacy Institute (USA) for the addresses of major American garment buyers such as Nike, GAP, Reebok, LL Bean, to inquire as to why childcare has not been included in their list of compliance for the factories they purchase from. Reebok has contacted her and said that they would list factories with day care facilities as good factories. Mondial, one of the major European clothing buyers has written to their three suppliers about the day care program. Phulki will soon be starting work with these factories.
Suraiya always tries to explain to factory owners the economic and social benefits of day care programs. She is carrying out a study on this matter, to be done by a volunteer student intern from Harvard University. She hopes that every year 1-2 students from Harvard will be able to come during the summer break and carry out other similar studies. Through these research findings she plans to counter abusive work practices with a strategy that is also economic.

La personne

In her early years, Suraiya grew up in a privileged environment. Due to social pressures, she was married off while in class ten. Her in-laws did not allow her to continue her studies even though she was good student. Since she came from a well-to-do family, her parents were of the opinion that no wife in the family should need to work. After a break of eight years, Suraiya returned to school against her husband and in-laws wishes. She continued her education till her Bachelors degree with no support from anyone. Even her mother at one point advised that her stubborn attitude towards academics was detrimental for married life. In the early 80s, she ran the floor operation of a garment factory in Chittagong City. Prior to her joining, the garment women were given three months training and then placed in the production cycle. Suraiya changed the format and within 15 days the women worker were involved in the production of garments. The efficiency and productivity of the factory increased significantly during her tenure.
After a few years, she and her family moved to Dhaka City. Once a woman came to seek domestic employment in her house but Suraiya refused as the woman had a child with her. She later regretted her actions and started discussing the idea of workplace day care. She established Phulki in her home garage in 1991, and her two sons donated their first paycheck for the start-up costs.