It’s fitting that it is the month that celebrates women, starting on the with International Women’s Day on the 8th and concluding with Mother’s Day on the 22nd.
The colour yellow with all its associations sums up the challenges faced by modern women all over the world. Yellow is the colour of positivity and enlightenment, honour, loyalty and joy but it also has a dingy side which represents caution, sickness and jealousy.
We know that women have many faces and roles but one role that is often overlooked is motherhood; women are the bringers of life, the nurturers and builders of families. But today we don’t always appreciate the importance of motherhood and a mother’s role in supporting the next generation, to fight for them to have a great start and to protect their childhood. This is not to denigrate the role of fathers, who are equally important, but I want to celebrate the woman’s role which is too often reduced to a balancing act of domesticity and childcare.
Yet we know that mothers are very powerful in terms of how they ensure their children are educated and how they build a family and community network. For example, when Grameen set up their loan business they found that the success of the business could be linked to women repaying quickly but more importantly using the funds to educate their children and strengthen their families. In the UK, we know that when mothers lead on building a home learning bridge into the nursery (and schools), then their children’s learning is strengthened. We know that when we take time to construct a caring world for our children they do better. Yet, we seem to always have to justify this as if it demeans our womanhood.
Last week, the Peabody Index was launched. They referred to “the motherhood penalty” for poorer parents who get trapped financially by ill-thought out benefit systems and unaffordable childcare. It summed up the motherhood conundrum for me, where the pressure is on for women to work, but the systems are not aligned; and this, I feel, is often due to the failure to recognise the importance of mothers.
The Duchess of Cambridge talked about motherhood in a very sensitive podcast with Giovanna Fletcher. Even from her privileged position she talked about the challenges of motherhood and the importance of us valuing the role.
March is the month of all women and mothers. Not all women will become mothers, but the majority do. As a society, we need to value this role and as women we must not feel that some roles matter less, and motherhood is something to squash in between a career and a future.
As a woman CEO leading an organisation where most staff are women and the customers are mothers, I want to give the mothers of the world a positive and joyful shout out.
June O'Sullivan is chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website