Tuesday, 20 March 2012

A Celebration of Mothering

This post was originally published on the Huffpost UK site for Mother's Day 2012.

I feel blessed to be a mother. I love being a mother. These all seem obvious things to say don't they on Mother's Day but consider, instead, how today is celebrated as a tribute to the institution of motherhood? Much in the same the way Easter and Christmas are observed, Mother's Day is about pink advertisements displaying flowers, chocolates and wine. Almost as a ritual the mother will be served breakfast in bed and taken out to lunch but the drawbridge is pulled up when it comes to talking about the joyful lived experience of being a mother, or 'mothering' as I call it.

In fact, it has become more commonplace to deride being a mother. Every so often a woman will make headlines for talking about how boring being with her children makes her. Close to the summer school holidays watch out, yet again, for mothers filling column inches talking about the dread of having their children at home for six weeks and how difficult and, again, boring it will be.

The cool culture that afflicts children under the age of 17 has been extrapolated and is now evident among mothers. Much in the same way that these children don't want to be seen with their mothers because it is uncool, it has likewise become uncool to say that mothering is fun. It has not helped recently that motherhood, as the institution, is always portrayed as a struggle through being defined as casualties of the austerity cuts and a lack of structural support such as childcare.

Accurate though these portrayals are and much as they are needed to spur on an improved diversity in understanding the struggles of mothers there is still an omission. It is an omission that consists of a failure to place a value on the wonder of having a child. The big deal is that, as a result, there is a lack of moral development and understanding of the enduring joy that transcends the difficulties of mothering.

The public debate on motherhood places a monetary value on it in terms of childcare costs and lost wages. However, the intangibles of mothering, love and care, are confined to the private sphere of domestic life. The public face of motherhood is one of financial sacrifice and hardship and the private face of mothering is one of sacrificial love. Yes, mothers do make sacrifices and put their children's needs first but to equate this with being an equivalent of a 'sacrificial lamb' is misguided.

Mothering is a personal bond and is practised subjectively but I do firmly believe that the unifying thread among caring mothers is one of enduring joyful love and devotion to their children. Happy Mothering Sunday.

Follow Jane Chelliah on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ambitiousmamas

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Brick Wall Lifestyle of Tamil Women in Sri Lanka

Tamil women in the north and east of Sri Lanka live a bleak life in which they are severely constrained by the dual evils of the aftermath of the civil war, fought between the Government and the Tamil Tigers, and by a serious and crucial lack of capacity building efforts to help them cope and rebuild their lives.

The plight of these women are set out in a report titled. 'Sri Lanka: Women's Insecurity in the North and East', published by the International Crisis Group on 20 December 2011. The report states that these women are powerless in the face of economic depravity, suffer from sexual abuse and are marginalised because their needs are not recognised at multiple levels.

Sri Lanka is a patriarchal society and many women are disadvantaged from having lost their husbands in the war. Their employment opportunities are limited and many cannot even afford to pay for food for their families. The catalogue of degradation makes for harrowing reading. Women have been forced into prostitution or coercive sexual relationship. Some have been trafficked. Such is the fear of sexual violation that females are too scared to go to school/college or seek employment.

Highly significantly the report states that: '..is the government willing and able to hold accountable those responsible for alleged crimes? To date it has failed to demonstrate that it is.'


Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Soft Power of Compassion to Inspire Girls

Roundup #3 for Blog for International Women’s Day #blogforiwd

I have been inspired by the amount of organisations around the world that are dedicated to the female cause, namely in educating girls and helping them escape dire situations in dangerous regimes or repressive cultural situations. 

The soft power of compassion is the unifying thread of the tireless work of these organisations. 
Compassion is a powerful feminine attribute. I don't ascribe the use of the word compassion here to mean, in any sense, docile or submissive. The word for these traits is repression, not compassion. Compassion as a soft power is a powerful tool in helping people escape poverty, getting girls into education in places where education is reserved for males and the list goes on. 

Compassion is shown by the bloggers around the world today who are bringing into the public eye stories of suffering endured by girls. Compassion is then spread through the act of other bloggers picking up on the story and running with it. Many causes are asking for funds and I hope that compassion will extend to aid giving as well. The value of compassion is limitless because it can extend from a single act of caring for your own daughter to working towards the collective good of girls everywhere. Everyone has a part to play. 

An Asian Woman Who Fought Back - Jayaben Desai

It was a seminal moment in the history of the British Trade Union movement when in the 1970s a South Asian woman challenged the working practices of British employers through a series of protests referred to as 'The Grunwick Strike'.

The woman who marshalled the Grunwick movement, Jayaben Desai, had moved to Britain after leaving Africa where she had been part of the middle class. Upon moving to Britain she realised that her working options were restricted due to her ethnicity. Grumwick was a mail order film processing company and Jayaben went to work there enduring long hours on low wages. Fed up of being badly treated she told her manager one day that, 'What you are running is not a factory, it is a zoo. But in a zoo there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips. Others are lions who can bit your head off. We are those lions, Mr Manager'. She then walked out and 100 fellow workers joined her.

So began a two year battle for the workers at Grunwick to be awarded trade union protection. Jayaben's cause gathered thousands of supporters. Sadly, the fight was lost in large part due to Margaret Thatcher's support for Grunwick but the moral cause was won by Jayaben because it brought the labour movement together in a way that no other cause had done before. In the process the social dialogue was opened up to embrace an awareness of the difficulties that immigrant workers faced and trade unions began to take note of the rights of minorities and women.

One small act by a woman sidelined by society that led to giant leaps for all. 

Remove the Stigmatisation Of Being Girls - Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures

The stigma of being female is the crux of a myriad of problems facing our young women. It acts a curse or a slur to last a lifetime from the moment the girl is born. The problem predominantly exists in Asia and Africa where males are assigned more value but the rest of the world is still guilty of wanting a male heir.

The preference for a male is predicated either on the notion of vanity in the Western world, to carry on the family name, or for economic reasons, the male will go out to work to bring money back into the family home.

Hollow as these reasons seem to me as a feminist, girls are being killed in some parts of the world-Gendercide-for these reasons. This is the extreme result of the stigmatisation of girls on a continuum line which, at the lower end, sees girls not being encouraged to be aspirational but, rather, to conform to the patriarchal stereotype of wanting to look beautiful with the sole aim of marrying a rich man. In between lies a sliding scale of the repression and the stigmatisation of females.

Patriarchy is the bogeyman in all this and is emmeshed in the world's cultures, secular establishments and religious practices. Patriachy is a pervasive discriminant. It is only by challenging it at every turn can our girls grow up safely and aspire to greatness.


Saturday, 3 March 2012

Occupy Mothers at Occupy LSX

This article was originally published in The Occupied Times, London, UK on 1 March 2012

What do you think your child’s life will look life in 10 years? My daughter is 12 years old now and in 2022, at the age of 22, she will have taken her place in the world as an adult. My hope is that she will be living in a world in which opportunities for people will be distributed fairly and evenly; and one in which she will be treated equally as a woman in every sphere of her life.

This is my dream for her. But dreams can be shattered by many variables. One of those variables is an environment in which inequality acts as a barrier to our ability to fully participate in society. As a feminist mother, it is not just my daughter I worry about but other children too. Feminist mothering is about creating a level playing field for all our children.

A mother’s instinct when confronted with a problem is to try and solve it. The Occupy movement has enabled me to convert my worry about the obstacles raised against our full participation into positive action. The movement’s focus on inclusivity and equal access to its resources has let me convert my raw maternal instinct to redefine the terms of inclusion in modern society into mother activism. I launched a feminist mothering group, UK Outlaw Mothers, at Tent City University in November.

Occupy LSX is an unparalelled opportunity for ordinary people like me who are seeking a platform from which to make a mark. Before October 15, which is when Occupy LSX began, there was no other place at which a feminist mothering movement would have been accommodated. Gender equality is a never ending struggle and when one throws mother equality into the mix the latter sinks to the bottom. To be an ambitious mother in UK mainstream society is viewed suspiciously. Fathers are allowed to be ambitious for their sons but the same does not apply to mothers. Having ambition is part of being a feminist mother and I am fed up of girls being viewed as only being good enough to have ambitions of being WAGs or who are expected to shop incessantly. I wanted to be part of a community where the debate was extended beyond these narrow confines. There isn't anywhere else where my daughter would be able to participate in discussions about political governance and money structures.

I now have the means to contribute to a worldwide movement that is the engine for global debate in which terms like ‘capitalism’ and ‘equality’ have all become part of the "Occupy" debate. In a singly week in January, three British political leaders, an American President (Bill Clinton in the Financial Times), Bishop Desmond Tutu and an international gathering of world political and business leaders (Davos) have discussed capitalism.

This is the success of the Occupy movement. It has brought into mainstream discourse debates and arguments over fairness that once were only discussed at local levels over local areas where, for example, certain low-income groups of people lived together in underprivileged circumstances or of areas of high unemployment.  The Occupy movement does not just recognise equality but, far more impressively, addresses
equality as a diversity issue. By this I mean that women have been recognised in debates and discussions as being single mothers, mothers on welfare, working mothers and disabled mothers. The UK feminist movement has not been able to achieve this much.

The Occupy movement has globalized a mother’s worry, and I am thankful for this. As a feminist mother, I deplore the patriarchal notion of motherhood which places a mother’s worry firmly in the private sphere of the domestic domain. The difficulties that our children face require a solution that comes out of a coalition-building consensus that reflects the fact that some of the drivers of global inequality were caused by global actions or inactions.

Feminist mothering is about reshaping societies so that mothers are recognised as both contributors to, and recipients of, global justice. That, it seems to me, isalso the aim of the Occupy movement. Mothers
 have an interest in how dividends are paid out in areas such as climate change, monetary inequality, allocation of natural resources and government policies. Being the mother of a starving child is a political as well as a humanitarian issue.Being a mother is always wrongly talked about in the narrow terms of ‘choice’: A mother either stays at home or goes out to work. There is so much more to mothering than that and this is why mother activism is on the rise through the Occupy movement.

Occupy provides a strategic opportunity for mother empowerment and it has brought a vibrancy and dynamism into my life, which has led to a genuine positive transformation in the way I am bringing up my daughter.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Vindication of the Australian Single Mothers

I have previously blogged about the demonization of single mothers but today a report comes from Australia that highlights just how institutionalised the discrimination was. Thousands of single mothers had their babies taken away from them between the 1950s and 1970s by the state. An 18 month enquiry by the Canberra State Government has concluded that a national apology is owed to these women by the Australian Government.

Reading the personal stories of the women involved is an anguishing experience in itself and I cannot even imagine just how much grief these mothers underwent and will still suffer from the lost years of not seeing their children grow up. Some girls were shackled to their beds to prevent resistance when their babies were taken away. Some were told that their babies had died, only to discover now that the babies were given up for adoption.

Marriage does not make a mother. While a loving and stable family relationship will provide sustenance to offsprings it is not the only family model that exists. The patriarchal system that dictates that a mother is of no value without a ring on her finger is a cruel one that seeks to diminish the value of mothers striving on their own. Just listen to the Republican candidates fighting for the Presidential nomination for further clarification of the patriarchal system being institutionalised and  ingrained in national politics.