International Women’s Day: Clementine Ford on motherhood and equality for a sustainable future
“Child-rearing is essential to society, and the labour women (for it is primarily women) do in providing it should be revered and valued” – Clementine Ford
International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world on 8th March and is a day when women are recognised for their achievements – it’s even a national holiday in some countries. Rooted in the labour movement, IWD also provides us with an opportunity to acknowledge the gender gap that still permeates throughout our society in an effort to continue the charge toward gender equality.
Of course, mothers tend to feel a particular affinity with IWD since so much of our labour resides in the shadows of society, often underpaid, unpaid and undervalued. A day for the world to acknowledge our contributions is welcomed!
UN Women published on their website: “The growing international women’s movement has helped make International Women’s Day a central point for action, to build support for women’s rights and their full participation in the economy, politics, community and in everyday life”.
UN Women, the global women’s organisation related to the United Nations, decided that this year’s IWD theme is ‘Changing Climates: Equality today for a sustainable future’. While the website International Women’s Day, an entity that created a namesake out of the day – and that resonates with an international community of women, corporations and events, published the theme as ‘Breaking the Bias’. Confusing, yes.
To celebrate IWD, we chatted with one of Australia’s most influential – and controversial – feminist writers, activists and mothers, Clementine Ford, knowing full-well she’d have an allegiance to one camp (and subsequent theme) or another. And, being that Ford’s a single working mum, we took the opportunity to discuss motherhood in Australia – including parenting through the pandemic, returning to work after having a baby and a-typical family structures.
International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women and acknowledges the progress yet to be made. In the last year in Australia, where has the most progress been made, and where are we still falling short?
I think we have made huge strides in talking about sexual violence and oppression through the brave work of Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, but the question is whether this conversation would be happening if either or both of those women were not white and middle class. I’m not detracting from their bravery in speaking out at all – but white supremacy is as toxic and presents structural oppression as gender inequality and misogyny, and society, in general, is still much more comfortable championing white, cis, middle-class voices over others.
This year there’s a bit of confusion about the IWD theme. While UN Women – and consequently BBC – have published the theme as ‘Changing Climates: Equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’, www.internationalwomensday.com – and consequently ABC – are running with ‘Breaking the Bias’. Which theme are you getting behind and why?
There’s confusion every year, primarily because a corporate entity co-opted IWD about twenty years ago. The International Women’s Day website is not clear about who runs it, what its affiliations are or how it’s even progressing change – it simply provides catchy hashtags and coordinates opportunities for corporates worldwide to pretend they’re doing something to address inequality.
UN Women is the appropriate source for IWD direction, not only because it works globally with women of all social, cultural and economic backgrounds and thus has a much broader understanding of global women’s action, but because UN Women is intrinsically linked with the history of the day. I cannot for the life of me figure out what #breakthebias is supposed to mean or achieve, except that it’s a very easy way to look like you’re doing something without actually doing anything. On the other hand, the UN Women’s goals are climate change-focused which is more pertinent than ever.
We’re a parenting publication – mostly appealing to mothers – so, I have to ask a few parenting questions in relation to IWD2022. What do you think are the biggest challenges for Australian mothers in 2022? What could governments and businesses do to face these challenges?
The same challenges that have always existed – economic, social and political support to mothers while still being actively engaged in community leadership. Childcare costs are still prohibitive and women suffer economically after giving birth, while men benefit from parenting. Women must be not only be supported but championed to re-enter work and have financial independence, and it is particularly egregious that this is still an issue given we’re the ones providing the next generation of taxpayers.
Agreed, and to that point, the pandemic revealed how deep gender inequality runs in Australian society. How did you see this play out in your community? Were there any lessons from the Covid experience that could help us all do better?
Most of my community are single mothers, so I definitely saw an impact in terms of access to healthcare, economic support and a lack of childcare. Many of the women I knew became sole parents during the pandemic or were dealing with exes who refused to take the pandemic seriously. Once again, the responsibility for community health and children falls solely to women, even as we’re punished for doing that very important job.
One of the things I admire about you is the way you destigmatise single parenting and atypical co-parenting arrangements. We all know women who stay in unhappy relationships for social and financial reasons. What would you say to them that they might need to hear?
The system is designed to keep women in unhappy relationships, supporting men to rise into power while limiting the opportunities for women to simply be free. But I would say that what is hard is still always possible – and there is no prize at the end of your life for doing the done thing, or for continually sacrificing your own happiness. You deserve to breathe in your own home and your own life without feeling suffocated by discontent.
What I would also say to women who want families but haven’t yet got them, is don’t be fooled by the heteronormative, patriarchal imperative that says you need to do this with a partner (and a man at that) to be valid or satisfied. It is better to choose a partner who you feel confident will parent with you respectfully and kindly even if or when you break up. Babies change a lot, but the thing they change most is a mother’s priorities for who and what makes her happy, and what matters to her most in the world. Picking up after a man who treats you like shit falls very low down on the list after that.
Getting back to work after a baby can be hard for women, who often take on more caregiving duties at home – and a bigger chunk of time away from the workforce. What are your top tips for making it work?
Don’t partner with men. But also, stop putting this on women to solve. We shouldn’t have to ‘make it work’. Child-rearing is essential to society, and the labour women (for it is primarily women) do in providing it should be revered and valued.
Lastly, I read that you will be presenting a ‘secular sermon about love’ at this year’s All About Women Festival at the Sydney Opera House. Sounds very on theme with your recent book, How We Love. Can you tell us a bit about what to expect from your sermon?
I’m still writing it, but what I hope is that people will walk away feeling affirmed and buoyant. I want them to cry and laugh and leave feeling more human than when they walked in.
Sounds like our kind of sermon!
You can follow Clementine Ford on Instagram and Twitter: @clementine_ford