Monday, 5 March 2012

Girls and Women Change our World: What are the issues?

Series introduction

The issues which I have listed below are by no means exhaustive, and there’s a very strong baby/ pregnancy bias, which is indicative of my current stage in life. The issues below are things which I would point out to people who make statements like ‘women have equality now, get over it and stop playing the victim’ and ‘maternity leave is sexist’.

Access to paid maternity leave is crucially important, for mother and baby as well as for the family and society at large. It is healthy for both mother and baby to be together during the newborn months. This is crucial to establishing the breastfeeding relationship, and to provide security to both mother and child.

Being close to one’s baby and not returning to work too early is also important to a woman’s recovery from pregnancy and childbirth (aside from the benefits to baby). Some women have very easy pregnancies and births and are ready to go very soon after, but many are not. Breastfeeding (more than pumping) ensures that a woman sits still and rests for large portions of the day, and feeding helps to contract the uterus and therefore aids in recovery.

Of course, this is not always possible even aside from the paid work and maternity leave considerations, particularly for very ill babies who are hospitalised or for babies who have sadly lost their mothers. Paid maternity leave allows the mother, baby and the rest of the family to decide when they are ready to separate if the mother chooses to return to work, rather than being forced into it for financial or industrial reasons.

Paid maternity leave is not only for mother and baby. Paid maternity leave is good for the economy. Generally, it is not a money leech where women can scam the system and get free leave. It is usually cheaper for the business/ industry if women are paid maternity leave that it is for them to resign. If a woman (or anyone for that matter) leaves the paid workforce, then she takes all of her professional skills and training with her. By staying engaged in the workforce, then these skills are not lost. The Productivity Commission supported this view in 2009, which was followed by the introduction of Paid Parental Leave. I will discuss this more later in the week.

Access to affordable and competent prenatal, birth and postnatal care

Me at 32 Weeks

Medical complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for females aged 15 – 19 worldwide. (United Nations Children’s Fund, Equality, Development and Peace, [New York: UNICEF, 2000], 19.) That’s more than car accidents, cancer or infectious diseases.

Medical care needs to be competent and affordable, both in developing and developed countries. I was very sick in my pregnancy with hyperemesis gravadrium. The medication which I needed to take daily or twice daily from Week 7 to Week 41 was about $15 a dose, so I spent over $5000 on that medication. This medication is not listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for HG. However, all of my other pregnancy and postnatal care was very affordable. The gap fee of a few GP visits, and parking at the hospital – which came to about $300 – were the only other costs to me. The Medicare portion of my GP visits, all my prenatal midwife and obstetrician appointments, prenatal classes, four ultrasounds, anti D injections, five visits to Emergency for intravenous antiemetics and fluid, eight days hospital accommodation and food for me, midwife care for two days of labour and six days postnatal, an epidural, a Caesarean, IV antibiotics, anticoagulants, post surgery painkillers, oxygen treatment and a visit from the physiotherapist were all ‘free’. For Chubs we received time in the Special Care Nursery, IV antibiotics, six days of neonatal care, numerous paediatrician visits, midwife care for six days, a renal ultrasound, a midwife home visit, two echocardiograms and a cardiologist consultation. All of this was ‘free’ too.

When I say ‘free’, of course I know this is not free, but paid for by the taxpayer. This is why it is crucially important that women can contribute to the workforce and pay taxes. Just as paid maternity leave is beneficial economically, so is competent and affordable pre and post natal care. Again, I will discuss this more later in the week.

Many women in the world do not have access to competent, affordable and available care like I do. Increasing access should be a priority, and was identified as such in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG 5: Improve maternal health). 2015 is rapidly approaching, and we cannot waste any more time.  

It is also important that women are given choice in their prenatal care. If women cannot access care which is suitable to them, then some choose riskier options (such as no care) if the available care choices are too hard or traumatic for them to endure. A greater variety of care options would help with this.

Legal protection of one's right to breastfeed or express milk, and protection from sexual discrimination. No woman should be discriminated against for caring for her child. This included blatant discrimination (for example, being refused service in a café) as well as less obvious discrimination (for example, not being allowed breaks to express milk during the work day, therefore preventing a woman from working). I spoke more about this previously and I will again address the economic considerations later in the week.

Flexible working arrangements which are family friendly benefit both mothers and fathers. The option of part time work, being able to bank flexi time, to alter work hours either regularly or as a one off, to work from home and many other options can help to keep parents and caregivers of both genders engaged in the work force. Different jobs and industries have varying abilities to be flexible. Schools and shops for instance are limited by their opening hours, and there are many jobs which just cannot be completed off site. If employers and employees are creative and committed however, then flexibility can be maximised where possible.

Available, affordable and flexible childcare is also essential to allowing parents and caregivers to be part of the work force. If someone has one child and works regular business hours in a large city, then generally a suitable arrangement can be found. However, shift workers, those with a rotating roster or irregular hours, those in a small town with limited options for childcare, or with many children may experience more difficulty in getting care for their children.

One of the ways in which the Knit-a-Square team distribute the hand knitted blankets is through informal crèches. These carers look after these children with barely nothing – one place was run out of an old shipping container. The children are left here so that their caregivers can look for work. This is a long way from acceptable care, however it’s the best option that these precious children have.

There are certainly many, many other issues which are facing women and girls in today’s world. This list is a starting point, however, for those who suggest that IWD is no longer relevant – it most certainly is.

Part 2: The girl child


  1. I am going to have read through all your knitting for charity posts. I knit trauma teddies, but I would like a new project!


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