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. 

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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.

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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.

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I will start off with a personal anecdote. One of my best friends is a single mother with two children. She didn’t choose to be single at the outset but her partner turned out to be so, to put it frankly, rubbishy that she decided the family unit was better off without him than with him in it. She threw him out after much physical violence (against her) and verbal abuse (by him).

Her family unit does not have a male at the helm but it is a happy and healthy one. Yet, the system of Patriarchy that we have would have us believe that having a man as the head of the house is always the best model to aim for. So, my friend should have put up with the constant disruption to family life that was causing mental stress and ill-health because he was, put simply, a HE.

The flaws in the attacks on single mothers are plenty. The argument assumes that ALL men are worthy partners and parents; that they have vested interests in the family unit and will strive to make it a better one; and that providing financially for the family is a paramount concern to them. Not so. The argument is also hollow because it assumes that ALL mothers who are single have chosen to be so in a level playing field. What about widows? What about those who suffer from domestic violence?

A strident opponent of single mothers is the controversial American Political Scientist and author, Charles Murray, who said illegitimacy was the single most important social problem of our time because it drives everything else. Single mothers, take heed, you are to blame for climate change, world poverty and famine. That is how ludicrous Murrray’s statement is.

The stigmatisation of single mothers is a rolling bandwagon. Politicians of certain persuasions use single mothers as vote winning fodder.  It is the divide and rule manifesto that plays to the smug marrieds or the suburban unhappily married women who are made to feel superior because, if they left their marriages, welfare and poverty would beckon.

In the week that celebrates Single Parenting let us remember that the eco-system of parents is a diverse one. Single parenting results from a number of reasons. The stigmatisation of mothers involved will tar her children and it is because of this that it needs to be stopped.

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Sunday is one day which unites women all over the world in terms of work (except in the Arab countries when Sunday is a working day). I am referring to the domestic work that is undertaken in terms of the washing, cleaning, Sunday lunch, getting uniforms ready for the following week, PE kits and the list goes on.

Domestic Sunday is the day, most out of the 7 days, which sees women revert to the traditional role of being homekeepers. What can this be attributed to? Tradition? Yes, ‘Family Sunday’ is a traditional global phenomenon that cloaks women in the culture of domesticity that is expected of them. I have come across many women who will not do something for themselves on Sunday because it is a family day and they feel that they have to be at home on that day because they are in paid employment during the week.

A breakdown of this mentality suggests that women break their lives up into working days and non-working days. The act of going to work is seen as something that these women either feel that they have to or, if they want to work, then there’s guilt associated with it. Sunday, ironically being the Sabbath, is when women ‘atone’ for their acts of supposed ‘selfishness’ during the week by staying at home and being home bodies.

There are women who are happy to devote their Sundays to family life and this post is not directed at them. It is about those women who feel that Sundays are a drag because they cannot do what it is that they would like to do.

Personally, I don’t understand why family life has to revolve around one day but the Western culture does have an obsession with time and physical proximity. Family life can only be achieved if everyone spends many hours together within a confined space with the mother providing physical support and being physically present. Isn’t this a limiting and destructive concept which ignores the fact that family life also occurs on the other 6 days in instances such as a partner coming home from work and needing suppor or a child needing help with a troubling relationship at school? The building blocks of family life occur all the time and women don’t need to face Mondays being exhausted because of another stricture of patriarchal society.

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