Not many agencies have opened crèches, which are nurseries where babies and young children are cared for during the working day, despite the Cabinet’s 2015 directive to all government agencies to do so as part of a move to improve the efficiency of working women.
The Cabinet issued the directive following a study by the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) identifying the lack of childcare support as one of the factors constraining women’s participation in governance and the civil service.
Setting up of crèches is also included as a mandatory requirement in the annual performance agreement.
A crèche differs from an Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre, which is a space for children above the age of three. In an ECCD centre, children are prepared for school.
NCWC established the first crèche in the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) in 2014.
Since then, records with NCWC show that only a handful of agencies like the economic affairs ministry, Druk Green Power Corporation, health ministry, works and human settlement ministry and a small number of corporations have set up crèches in their office premises. There are more than 50 agencies, autonomous bodies and corporations located in Thimphu city.
NCWC director Kunzang Lhamu said that setting up of crèches has been challenging. “Opening a crèche hasn’t been easy though several agencies have set up some on their own,” she said.
While NCWC helps out with providing some equipment like televisions, toys, and refrigerators, finding space has been the major constraint for the agencies. “While in principle every agency agrees on the need of a crèche, space and money have been a major problem,” an official from NCWC said.
Another pertinent issue is on how a crèche can be constructed for large agencies, which will require big spaces and infrastructure. There are also issues as to whether agencies should construct individual childcare facilities or should a large crèche be constructed to cater to these agencies.
While the commission is planning to establish crèches in dzongkhags outside Thimphu, NCWC has not received any proposal from dzongkhags so far. No crèche has been set up in any private agency.
Lack of caregivers is another problem being faced.
Currently, the crèche in MoIC has hired its two women sweepers to look after the babies. “We have started paying Nu 1,500 after pooling some fees since we could not afford a professional caregiver,” MoIC personal assistant, Dawa Zangmo said.
Sustainability of crèche is also another issue of concern. But the commission hopes for the situation to improve with review of the guideline for childcare centres at the workplace. “With the review of the guideline, all these existing issues of resources, sustainability and quality should be resolved,” Kunzang Lhamu said.
However she added that it has been heartening to see a number of agencies including ministries setting up crèches. “It is not so bad and the commission would like to continue extending help to set up even bigger crèches,” the director said.
Irrespective of these issues, opening of crèches has in fact benefited working women. “The creche has made feeding convenient and improved breastfeeding since I can feed at least three-four times while I used to get to only twice before,” Dawa Zangmo said.
According to mothers, the crèche has also improved their contribution at the workplace. “Since we do not have to take off like before, feeding hasn’t affected our work,” MoIC assistant human resource officer, Lhamchu said.