For the first time ever I took ten minutes out of my life to watch an interview with a New Zealand prime minister. Jacinda Ardern is making headlines around the world on being only one of two world leaders to give birth whilst in office. By chance she gave birth on the birthday of the first woman Pakistan Prime Minster Benazir Bhutto. Whilst Jacinda and her partner announced their news three months into the pregnancy, Bhutto kept hers a secret right up to the birth of her daughter in 1990. That’s right I’m going to wade in on the female debate.
Following on from my Thailand It’s a women’s world post I thought it worth discussing a little of New Zealand and her attitudes.
On a whole New Zealand and her people are a ‘muck in’, sort it out type of people. Famously from pioneer UK stock and with the indigenous Maori and more recently a good smattering of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Polynesian and European immigrants. The cities are multi-cultural and all that means in terms of mixed families and children, languages, food and culture. Different faces, shapes and colours. Something to be celebrated.
Women on a whole are an accepted part of all aspects of society (that feels strange even to have to mention it). New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote in 1893, led by Kate Sheppard (check out our $10 note and Women’s Suffrage post on NZ History). Over the last 100 years women have been working on all fronts, in the home, at the workplace and more often than not on both.
Not that many generations ago across the globe women had no choice, domestic life and child rearing were it. And I think for me this is the key, the choice. What has been fought for and in many countries the battle is far from over, is the choice to do with ones life and body as one wishes and not have the choice taken from them.
It feels that my generation is really the first to be given the choice fully. What has happened? I believe it is a shift in culture and thinking. It’s not enough for women to want a choice, expect independence and to have to choose work or family. It has to be throughout the culture. Parental support, men and boys who don’t even consider an alternative to the women in their lives making decisions on their own lives. And dare I say women supporting the women (and men) around them in these decisions.
Back to Jacinda, whilst I finally feel like there is a leader that speaks to me as a demographic, a young woman, making choices daily that affect her life, the country and now a small baby. Her family. I can’t help but consider the discussion when a man in a leadership role has had a baby, it’s simply a nice story for the women’s mags and back to business.
Are we making too much of this instance? I don’t believe so. From the outset Jacinda has been challenged and criticised that she can’t possibly be pregnant and govern a country. She simply stated ‘I’m not going to leave any room for doubt I can do this’ and that’s the difference women have to continually prove we can do everything. However, I’m not laying this squarely at men’s feet. This is an outcome of this shift in culture. Women, I have found, in the workplace are some of the harshest critics. Not allowing women space to be pregnant, to enjoy pregnancy without stress and to do what needs to happen to ensure a healthy baby. Often criticising and lack of support adds to stress. Even whilst on maternity leave this is still an issue. I found myself two weeks from returning to work after my second baby and made redundant. Then re-hired as a contractor. It was within days of a redundancy pay-out being required after 7 years with the same workplace. Hmmm… and the whole where do you see yourself in five years question to a 30 something woman without children? Loaded much?
When Jacinda announced her partner (unmarried) is going to be the primary caregiver I have heard enough anecdotal comments that imply that men aren’t capable of parenting and ‘does he really want to do that?’ Let’s not dismiss the power and strength it takes to raise a baby. It’s hard work for any new parent. That it usually falls to the woman is fairly obviously a biological one. However, these men who’ve been on the female journey and culturally shifted us to have the choice deserve the credit, support and love to allow them to step into this role if it is the one decided by the parents or sometimes thrust upon them. Trust me it is still a brave father that walks into the mothers coffee mornings and even onto the primary school yard and tries to crack that female domain without appearing to crack on to the women. Trust me, without meaning to the ranks close pretty tight and the wine play dates aren’t flowing. My only guess is it can be fairly lonely and confusing as a Dad. At least when I needed a sympathetic ear there were many.
When I heard the Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast on our Prime Minister I realised this is a hugely positive impact worldwide. However,what the debate seems focussed on is woman’s right to work and have a family, to be paid fairly (this should not be a question), not discriminated against if we don’t have children (yet) or do have children that yes need our time and attention. The workplace needs a shift to acknowledge that these women who devoted their lives and knowledge prior to kids did not lose their skills when they gave birth but have gained life experience and a whole bag of new skills. I am currently on the look out for part time work and the number of roles that suggest would suit a graduate or a parent can be where the pay disparity appears. A new graduate has a youth and fresh out-look, a parent has easily 15 years work and life experience, but yes more outside work responsibilities. How about celebrating these talented (mostly) women with skills, experience and motivation and employing them for these part time roles, more flexible workplaces. At rates that reflect this.
Maybe it’s my generation that’s had the choice, but I can’t help but feel the choice has swung so heavily towards work that whilst the focus was on Jacinda being in office whilst pregnant (and not coping) that we forget what happens at the end of the pregnancy. A brand new human being enters the world and all that implies, the work involved in growing these humans into happy, creative, successful adults (and possible world leaders). Why does the choice constantly have to be work or family? Trust me, I’ve yet to meet a single parent or family that would tell you they have the balance right. There is guilt, a feeling that we must succeed at all things and be ‘super-women’, this is damaging and exhausting. Let’s be the best parents and humans we can. Let’s support our partners in being the best parents they can be. And I know a lot of amazing fathers who work jolly hard, and still take time to enjoy the precious small people in their lives (especially my husband).
I have been reading the great book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls to my kids (one boy and one girl). It’s a fabulous conversation starter and they are fascinated by the real stories. I love how it blows their minds that there was a time women couldn’t go to school or drive or work. They love the spy stories, these ladies don’t seem to make their 30th birthdays! Or next read will be the boy version. We need to celebrate our boys and men and bring them on this journey with us. Our boys and girls need to grow and develop alongside each other, celebrate each other’s success and encourage each other equally. We are human and doing this together and as partners after all.
Let me know your thoughts. We are all after all part of this discussion and whether you have your own kids or not, we’re all responsible for creating an accepting society.