LibLink: Jo Swinson: Like me, Jacinda Ardern took her baby to work and was met with ignorance

Last week Jacinda Ardern proved that when you are a mother, people will criticise you whatever you do. The moral of that story is that you should make the decisions that suit your family.

Jo Swinson wrote for the Guardian about her and Jacinda’s experiences and how they show we still have a long way to go to deal with discrimination in the workplace.

She highlighted the chorus of disapproval that she and Jacinda had been put through:

Yet along with the warm headlines came the inevitable snarky comments from the political world, and the constant judgment by others that is a hallmark of motherhood. Ardern was criticised for the cost of plane tickets after she made a special one-day trip to the Pacific Islands Forum in order to accommodate breastfeeding her baby, then 11 weeks old. Her daughter had to stay at home because she was too young for the necessary vaccinations, so her options were to either not go at all, or go for only a short time. Ardern summed it up perfectly: “If I didn’t go, I imagine there would have been equal criticism. Damned if I did, damned if I didn’t.”

I experienced a similar reaction to taking my 11-week-old son, Gabriel into the House of Commons chamber for the closing speeches of a debate earlier this month. While lots of people have seen it as a welcome step forward, plenty of others deemed it a disgrace. In July, in the wake of the Brexit vote where the Tory party chairman broke our pairing arrangement, I was criticised for nursing Gabriel at home instead of being at work.

Over 1000 women a week suffer discrimination just for having a baby. Jo looks at how workplaces could be more flexible in their arrangements and employers more approachable and open to meeting their needs.

For example, to fulfil my responsibilities at the recent Lib Dem party conference, my husband had to take Gabriel and his four-year-old brother on to the seafront at Brighton, and pop back into the conference centre every few hours to pick up expressed milk and let me feed the baby. I imagine a similar operation was in place for Ardern at the UN, albeit in rather more illustrious surroundings.

Returning to work while breastfeeding is possible, yet often it feels too difficult to speak to the boss about the simple changes a woman needs to do this.

Ardern is the first to admit she has many advantages that most new parents do not have, as do I. Being in a position of power, able largely to set your own diary with flexibility to accommodate the feeding schedule of a newborn baby, makes it possible to return to work and just about keep the balls in the air. Yet instead of support at work, many new mums get a P45. It’s a national scandal that as many as 54,000 women a year are forced out of their jobs just for having a baby.

You can read the whole article here.

* Newshound in training. I'm sweet and full of mischief, just like my stories.

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One Comment

  • I think Jo Swinson needs to be careful with the use of the label “ignorance” here.

    It does need to be borne in mind that having children is a choice (courtesy of David Steele) as is breastfeeding (breastfeeding is a better choice to formula feeding, though it may be somewhat less significant than people commonly think).

    With this is mind, people criticising other people’s choices can be fairly viewed as merely a difference in values and point of view, and have nothing at all to do with ignorance. Especially if significant cost and or compromise is being expected of others for such choices to be met.

    I think it’s imperative that liberals move away from this habit that many have developed of calling people ignorant just because the other person happens to disagree with them. There was an excellent article in the Guardian discussing this phenomenon and outlining how doing this paves the way for illiberal movements to capture the popular mood https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/01/how-a-disastrous-change-in-perspective-disempowered-the-left-and-let-the-right-rise

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