International Women’s Day (March 8) will be celebrating the social, economic, and political achievements of women globally.1 Gender equality is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and while our society has made great strides in areas of education and workforce participation, gender disparity remains.
Reports still indicate that too few women are advancing into leadership roles. They are under-represented in politics and earn less than men. They also experience high rates of gender-based violence, particularly with some groups, as well as being responsible for the majority of caregiving.2
For example, we readily acknowledge the crucial role of mothering in a child’s healthy development. We also recognize that raising children with empathy, trust and love will be carried forward to future generations. Recent neuroscience teaches us the early years of childhood are crucial for healthy brain development and, as psychologist and author, Penelope Leach says in “Child Care Today: Getting It Right for Everyone” (2009), “unlike all other mammals, most of the growth of the human brain is postnatal, and continues for several years.3
Yet in our busy world, mothering is viewed as a secondary role we must fit in with the more ‘important’ facets of our lives. The result creates social and economic pressures in terms of child care and a personal conflict for many employed mothers who may feel a gnawing sense of guilt, whichever choice they make.
Society seems to assume to be valued is to be equal to men’s traditional roles, as in the workplace. Directly contributing to the economy receives recognition through respect, appreciation, esteem and dignity, as well as financial rewards, which translates into power, control and independence. Many women, therefore, strive to ‘break the glass ceiling’ as the only way to prove their worth.
However, ‘Working mothers’ and ‘Stay-at-home’ mothers are more stressed than ever. In a U.S. research study entitled, The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness (2009),4 economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers show that, in spite of the progress women have made over recent decades towards equality, they are less happy today than their predecessors were in 1972, both in absolute terms and relative to men. We need to expose the elephant in the room to help guide us, starting with this question – ‘What is best for children?’
To answer it, a poll released in May, 2013 by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) showed that 76% of Canadians believe it is best for children under six to be at home with at least one parent.5 These results were consistent regardless of income, gender or working arrangements, and to a lesser extent, regional lines. If parents cannot be home, they prefer options closest to the home environment, starting with relatives, then a neighborhood home daycare, followed by other arrangements, if necessary. The last choice for their children is centre-based daycare.
So What is the Underlying Problem?
It lies in our value system. Women shouldn’t have to compete in the male workforce to be treated with respect and recognition. There is an assumption it is women’s main responsibility for the care of children (and caregiving, in general). According to Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the New America Foundation, in `Why Women Still Can’t Have It All’ (The Atlantic, 2012), “women shouldn’t need to accept male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal.”6
Finding a balance is essential so that no family member becomes collateral damage. Men, for example, are not secondary in the process but partners in sharing obligations that enhance the family as a unit. There is a strong need for more men to support the cause but, as Judith Shulevitz says in a New York Times article, The Designated Worrier (2015), “So long as women talk about men ‘helping out,’ we have not attained equality. Helping isn’t sharing.”7 And the problem is exacerbated for single mothers who may have to rely on relatives, friends and neighbors.
Child care is not a women’s issue – it’s society’s issue. In “‘The Real Wealth of Nations” (2007), Riane Eisler,8 social scientist, activist, attorney, and president of the Center for Partnership Studies, states our values are distorted by the economic double standard that devalues anything associated with women and femininity.
Economic rules are human creations and we must invent new ones that meet our human needs. For example, dominator beliefs and institutions that devalue caring and caregiving is an unsustainable economic system. She suggests that society’s leaders change the economic rules in terms of its structure from families to schools to businesses and governments with caring as a core cultural value.
And social activists should focus on shifting the culture from a domination system inherited from past eras to partnerships towards the primary relations between women and men and parents and children. This shift is already in place with businesses like the SAS Institute, the world’s largest privately-held software company. It “demonstrates the benefits of caring policies and practices in dollars and cents.”9
The Status of Women Canada says it is time to start changing attitudes and behavior, recognizing gender stereotypes and challenging sexism and discrimination wherever they exist. 10
There is a strong global momentum striving for gender parity. “Women’s equality is being fuelled by globally growing movements like #Me Too and #TimesUp. And there has never been a more important time for the International Women’s Day 2018 campaign theme than to #PressforProgress.”11 GENDER EQUALITY MATTERS.
- Leach, Penelope, Child Care Today: Getting It Right for Everyone, Alfred A. Knopf, N.Y., 2009, (31).
- http://www.nber.org/papers/w14969.pdf., Stevenson, Betsey & Wolfers, Justin, The Paradox of Declining Happiness, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA 02138, May 2009.
- www.imfcanada.org. (IMFC), Mrozek, Andrea, Executive Director, Institute of Marriage and Family Canada., Canadian Daycare Desires, Part 1, May 2013
- 6. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/
Slaughter, Anne-Marie, president of the New America Foundation and Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University
- http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/10/opinion/sunday/judith-shulevitz-mom-the-designated-worrier.html?_r=2&utm_source=Newsletter+20150521&utm_campaign=Newsletter+20150402&utm_medium=email. Shulevitz, Judith, The Designated Worrier
- http://www.partnershipway.org/. Eisler, Riane, The Real Wealth of Nations, Berrett-Koehler, Inc., 2007, San Francisco, CA. 2007 pps.218-225
- Ibid, p.47