Earlier this month a brilliant hashtag emerged on Twitter – #MyMum.
Sadly, it was a response to a particularly low blow in election campaigning when the Liberal party reportedly leaked a negative story about Labor leader Bill Shorten’s late mother’s career.
Happily, Bill’s emotional defence of his mother Ann Shorten “my mum …” sparked a hashtag that’s highlighted the hard work, grit and sacrifices women have made for their families and careers.
Twitter was flooded with thousands of other #MyMum stories in support of Bill and Ann, and it became clear that the Libs had pretty much kicked an own goal in the lead up to Mother’s Day … and the election.
The #MyMum stories were as heartfelt as Bill’s own and illustrated how much women have endured as they prioritised the wellbeing of their children under all kinds of challenging circumstances.
On @rgloveroz's Drive program, we combined the #MyMum stories sent in by listeners, with some of the tales from Twitter, to tell the story of Australia’s mothers – their resilience, their courage and the obstacles they faced.
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This is Australia’s love letter to its mothers. 💞 pic.twitter.com/mH5ZnLQguw
— ABC Sydney (@abcsydney) May 10, 2019
As Van Badham wrote of the #MyMum tweets for The Guardian: “Every one of them was denied the opportunity to pursue their talents and instincts, and their stories of survival and sacrifice for their children all share two truths. These women deserved more opportunities than they got, and their disadvantages were external, structural and imposed.”
The #MyMum tweets captured the reality of women’s lives. How their own ambitions were often put on the backburner for decades – or forever. They were an emotional time capsule. Glimpses into lives that are often tucked away as mums simply sucked it up and/or suffered and then got on with the job at hand. A sort of mini-history lesson in less than 280 characters, if you will.
But the thing is, many women are – right now, in 2019 – facing very real difficulties, trauma and disadvantage. Some of them are different from our own mothers, but many of them are the same.
Women and girls are still very much up against it when it comes to all kinds of basic rights – housing, superannuation, family violence, the wage gap, timely access to healthcare, the cost of living, reproductive rights, access to affordable education, the cost of childcare, mental health support … and that’s just for starters.
#MumsNow are facing big challenges and we chatted to a few about the issues that kept them awake at night.
For mum-of-two Shevonne, balancing parenting, work and financial security – now and in the future – has been incredibly difficult.
“When I was pregnant with both my kids I was a contract worker. The uncertainty over how we would manage without my income, or if I had a job to come back to after that period created the most stress and anxiety I have ever experienced,” Shevonne says.
“There is an assumption that parents take these roles to have a more flexible work environment to raise their families, while this is true, it also creates huge financial instability and stress.”
“We need more policies that support parents in both casual work and the gig economy and we need greater flexibility in the more structured workforce to allow parents to raise their children and earn an income.”
Lana points out that the cost of living is crippling for young families, with skyrocketing rent and mortgage costs both a constant source of pressure.
“We no longer have a choice not to work,” Lana says. “The cost of putting a roof over our kids’ heads, and ours, is out of control.”
Women also find their career path, income – and consequently their superannuation – are all negatively impacted once they have children.
“My friend is a lawyer but is working as a receptionist in a local doctor’s surgery two days a week,” Lana explains. “She wants to be present for her kids and the long hours of a lawyer are too harsh for her now. She’s got little ones who need their mum. The point is women, when they become mothers, are restricted in the type of work we can do to better juggle our family commitments.”
“The future is scary when we don’t have much as a result of raising kids, working less and earning less,” Lana says.
Suze says fair and equal access to affordable housing is a real challenge for her family.
“I get overlooked for so many rentals because I’m a single mum – even though my income is better and more stable than a couple on the dole,” Suze says.
“I applied for 12 homes last time I had to move (our house was sold and the new owners moved in) and was turned down every time,” she explains. “I became desperate under the time pressure, and applied for one with my ex-partner who is on the dole. We got the first house we applied for.”
“I’m now looking to extricate myself from that ‘living-with-the-ex’ situation and find myself in the very same position I was in before – and now with even fewer houses in my price range to choose from. Single parents really don’t seem to get much of a fair go.”
Housing pressure is an enduring challenge for #MumsNow. Women aged over 55 are the fastest growing group to find themselves homeless. After facing the challenges that Lana, Shevonne and Suze spoke about, women in this age bracket are often caught short without the money to keep a roof over their heads in retirement.
It’s clear that the happiness, wellbeing and security of girls and #MumsNow must be an absolute policy priority if we are to stamp out this sort of disadvantage and inequality. Their wellbeing determines the future wellbeing of our nation.
So let’s talk about #MumsNow, too.