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Advocate Like A Mother: Reflections from an Inspired Attendee

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Advocate Like A Mother: Reflections from an Inspired Attendee

There’s nothing we love more than seeing our events through the eyes of the mamas, papas, babes and friends who experience them with us. Here, Mindr mama Sally Cunningham shares her perspective on our recent #AdvocateLikeAMother event in celebration of International Women’s Day, both through an incredible short video she created to capture the event, and a beautiful written reflection. What does it mean to you to #AdvocateLikeAMother?

It’s been a couple of weeks since the incredible Mindr and Vox Media’s #AdvocateLikeAMother event in celebration of International Women’s Day, and I’m still energized. The inspiring stories and discussion sparked by the incredible women on the panel, and fostered by the Mindr mamas and papas in the audience, left me with plenty of food for thought. The event has also given me the unique opportunity to reflect on my own experience not only as a mother, but in a new way, as a mother and advocate.

If I am totally honest, until recently, “advocate” was not really a term I ever really thought about, talked about, or even fully understood. I thought it only related to people with political, legal or public platforms — activists, lawyers or politicians speaking on behalf of, defending, or demanding justice for those whose voices are not being heard. But since becoming a mother, I have come to realize the importance of being able to advocate for oneself. As parents, we are fierce advocates for our children. But the question we face is: how do we find that voice for ourselves?

Regardless of who we are, where we come from, and what our experiences are, when it comes to advocating for ourselves as mothers we are often in the dark with how to find and use our own voice, to have our own needs, wants and ambitions heard.

Cue the warm, welcoming and uplifting space created by Mindr and Vox Media. In this setting, stories were shared and celebrated, and questions like mine were asked and discussed. Listening to the personal stories of advocacy from the wonderfully diverse and inspiring panel of women, I noticed a recurring theme. Many of these women had spent their careers advocating for others in their capacity as lawyers, UN representatives and Human Rights advocates. However, once they became mothers, one of their toughest challenge became advocating for themselves. It made me realize that regardless of who we are, where we come from, and what our experiences are, when it comes to advocating for ourselves as mothers we are often in the dark with how to find and use our own voice, to have our own needs, wants and ambitions heard.

There were two moments, in particular, that stood out for me at the event. The first came from a beautifully candid exchange between Lawyers for Children lawyer Tara Sheoran-Khaimov and model/breastfeeding advocate Mara Martin. Towards the end of the event, while answering a question from the audience, Tara used her platform to praise Mara for breastfeeding her daughter while walking the catwalk at a Sports Illustrated casting last year. Tara highlighted how Mara’s action demonstrates how important breastfeeding was to her, and also reflected the importance so many of us place on being able to breastfeed our children. While this may have been a brief exchange on the panel, it demonstrated the importance of championing, supporting, and being allies to one another. It reminded me of the solidarity we all need when navigating the world as mothers, an experience that sometimes seems so isolating. Mara further demonstrated that camaraderie when she shared the story of how she came to find herself on the catwalk, breastfeeding her baby. She said that support she had from the people around her in that moment is what allowed her to make that choice. The knock-on effect of Mara’s actions in normalizing breastfeeding globally has been profound. This really hit home for me how seemingly small acts of support by enough people can lead to great change.

The second moment that really stuck with me came from a question by an attendee. She spoke of how being able to advocate for oneself is a privilege, highlighting that there are women and mothers who cannot advocate for themselves without risking repercussions. She asked the panel how those of us who do have that privilege can help and support women not just by advocating on their behalf but in empowering them to advocate for themselves. What a powerful and thought-provoking question.

We don’t need to have the platform or the public persona or even an overt intention to go out and advocate for a particular issue. By simply showing up, listening and supporting others, we are making it easier for others to advocate for themselves.

What both of these moments revealed to me is that an important condition of feeling able to advocate for oneself is having a supportive network and a safe space to do so. All of us, regardless of who we are, can be that support and create that space for someone else. We don’t need to have the platform or the public persona or even an overt intention to go out and advocate for a particular issue. By simply showing up, listening and supporting others, we are making it easier for others to advocate for themselves. And if we do have the privilege of a platform or a position of power or influence in any given situation, we need to share that platform, pass the mic and create a safe and supportive space for those who don’t have the opportunity to be heard to share their voices.

What I am realizing is that advocacy, like yoga, is a practice, something you need to commit to and work at. So I am going to start small, maybe telling the man-spreader on the train to move his legs so I can sit down. And build up from there. I want my child to know that she has a voice she can use to advocate for herself. But the best way she is going to learn that is from the actions I take and the example I set. So here goes.

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Friday Five

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Friday Five

Happy Friday, Mindr fam! Here’s what you missed in the news this week:

1. The De Blasio Administration recently announced they are building four new monuments honoring female leaders as part of the She Built NYC Initiative. These pioneering women include mama Katherine Walker, godmother Billie Holiday, pediatrician Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías, and kindergarten teacher Elizabeth Jennings Graham.

2. Calling all feminist historians! According to historian and author Bettany Hughes, only .5% of the last 3,500 years of recorded history is explicitly about women. This Women's History Month you can learn more about female change-makers by following New York Times Gender’s 31 Days of Women project.

3. This week Danish researchers announced their development of Q, the first program that produces a genderless voice for digital assistants. As most digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana are female-presenting, the invention of Q is opening up discussions about gendered technology.

4. U.S. Women’s Soccer Players are suing U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination. Beyond pay discrimination, the women are also making a case for gender discrimination based on where they play, the medical treatment they receive, and their travel accommodations in comparison with male players.

5. Last week PwC released their 2019 Women In Work Index, an assessment of female economic empowerment across the 33 OECD member countries, and Iceland and Sweden topped the list once again. Sweden’s 480 days of parental leave and their pioneering use of the word feminist in their policy approach put them in the top two year after year.

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Zero Discrimination Day

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Zero Discrimination Day

This article first appeared on the United Nations Foundation’s Global Moms Challenge blog. You can read the original piece here.

March 1st was Zero Discrimination Day, an annual, global campaign to promote equality in the law and in practice for all individuals. Discrimination is all too often visible in the workplace, whether in hiring practices, salary gaps, or the selective promotion of employees.

In the United States, today’s mothers are more educated than ever before, and the majority of mothers with young children are in the workforce. Globally, 40% of women are in the labor force, and many of them are mothers. In honor of these women and Zero Discrimination Day, let’s examine more closely the discrimination women, especially mothers, are facing in their workspaces.

Have you heard of the Motherhood Penalty and Fatherhood Bonus? Studies from the U.S. Census Bureau and Research Institute of Industrial Economics show that while a new dad typically experiences a salary increase after having a baby, having children hurts women’s earnings. New moms, regardless of whether they take maternity leave, often experience demotions, cutbacks to part-time work, or a failure to be promoted.

Why? This discrimination can come from antiquated assumptions that fathers are always the primary breadwinners and that a mother’s income is merely a supplemental bonus. But these assumptions are often false. We can never assume a mom’s financial status or partnership status at home and, in reality, the majority of mothers in countries like the United States are the sole, primary, or co-breadwinners for their families while also being primary caretakers.

A problem that goes hand in hand with the motherhood penalty is pregnancy discrimination – the term for when expecting mothers are made to feel uncomfortable, pushed out, or fired from their place of work simply because of their pregnancy. While there is legislation like the U.S. Pregnancy Discrimination Act and standards from the International Labour Organization on maternity protection, this past year many companies have been sued for allegations of pregnancy discrimination.

Finally, we must also remember that a workspace can be a skyscraper, a 100-acre field, or a home. Informal economies often have less protections in place for women and mothers than traditional corporations. In informal economies like agriculture, domestic work, and childcare, there is often no paid maternity leave, no accountability measures for pay discrimination, and no designated, safe space to breastfeed or pump. Fortunately, organizations like the Domestic Worker’s Alliance are working to protect women in informal economies and better regulate these industries. Mothers are assets to workplaces and must be treated as such.

Take Action Challenge on Zero Discrimination Day:  

  • If you live in the United States, call your Representatives in support of the FAMILY Act, which would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of paid family leave.

  • Is there a lactation room where you work? If not, rally your co-workers to request one so new mothers have the resources and space they need if they choose to breastfeed.

  • If you’re an employer looking to build workspaces that work for parents, reach out to Mindr for organizational guidance.

Eleanor Moriearty is a Policy and Advocacy Intern at Mindr. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Human Rights from Barnard College, and is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Administration in Development Practice at Columbia University SIPA, specializing in Gender & Public Policy.

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