Mothers are the invisible army carrying us through the pandemic

Frankly Speaking

Picture of Francesca Cavallo
Francesca Cavallo

Bestselling author of “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls”, Founder & CEO of Undercats and 2019 European Young Leader (EYL40) 

Over the course of the past year, women have overwhelmingly taken the brunt of this pandemic.

Not only have they lost their jobs in droves, not only are they dealing with increased rates of domestic violence, but they have also seen the already unbalanced amount of daily hours spent on family care increase as services like schools and childcare were cancelled during lockdowns.

Through mental health and severe economic crises, women and particularly mothers caring for children under the age of 18 have effectively held our communities, our countries and ultimately the world together.

Many leaders have used war metaphors to describe this pandemic. They have talked about the ‘fight’ against the virus, rightfully describing healthcare and essential workers as heroes. But they have failed to recognise the importance of the silent army that is carrying us through one of the worst crises that humanity has faced since the end of World War II: mothers.

The best support mothers can receive is gender equality

The importance of seeing the fundamental work mothers are doing doesn’t come from a misogynistic rhetoric about how much we love mothers and how important they are in our lives. It is instead about implementing policies and support structures to ensure that – after sacrificing so much – women and mothers in particular aren’t left behind in the efforts to rebuild Europe.

Actually – strike that – not being left behind isn’t nearly enough. Women must be at the forefront and centre of our reconstruction efforts.

Speaking about motherhood is dangerous, especially for feminists like me. Sometimes it feels like conservative politicians have hung their hats on motherhood and when anyone else talks about mothers, they need to offer reassurances that women who choose to not be mothers are still valuable and worthy of all the best the world has to offer.

I hold that truth to be self-evident, and – as a woman without kids – I know from my personal experience how far we are from the moment a woman is recognised for her value independently from the fact that she has or has not given birth.

Nevertheless, talking about motherhood from a progressive standpoint is important because the best support mothers can receive is gender equality. Sharing parenting responsibilities, having the same career opportunities as men and sitting in the rooms where decisions are made is not just the best, but the only way to support motherhood in 2021. If conservatives truly care about mothers, they should get on board.

We need gender balanced leadership teams in governments, companies and organisations of all kinds

Every day, I work to build a world where the responsibility of raising children falls evenly on the shoulders of women and men. Every day, I try to inspire new generations with books and stories that celebrate equality. But I am not blind: I know that while gender equality is the goal we are working towards, we are not there yet – you know this too.

We won’t get there faster by ignoring the fact that women with children at home have done more for the world than any other category of people throughout this pandemic.

Fighting for gender equality is first and foremost the constant effort of making the invisible visible and discussing what we have been taking for granted for far too long.

As we transition out of the pandemic, we need to stop messing around and we must demand action. Our best efforts aren’t enough anymore. Frankly speaking, they haven’t been enough for a long time but the pandemic has made them look more ridiculous than ever.

We need gender balanced leadership teams in governments, companies and organisations of all kinds. We cannot wait for everyone to be on board because there are not enough hours in the day to convince every last person that gender equality is a worthy pursuit that will make the world a more hospitable place.

Women have never been truly seen

The data is everywhere. We must act, lead by example and challenge ourselves and the people we work with, while remaining fully aware that this isn’t going to be a painless transition but rather a necessary one.

A few days ago, I launched a proposal to nominate mothers for the Nobel Peace Prize on my social media channels. I was struck by the number of women who told me they teared up as they read my post. They felt seen.

Actually seeing people is what politics is about. Various parties comprise our governments because different party leaders see different people; none of us can claim to have the ability to see everybody. That’s what makes democracy special.

Women have never been truly seen.

If Europe used this crisis as an opportunity to change this, it would give birth to one of the most powerful revolutions that Planet Earth has ever seen – and one that could save it.

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