"The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job." – Annabel Crabb, Australian journalist
The extension of statutory maternity leave in Hong Kong from 10 weeks to 14 weeks officially took effect last month, bringing it in line with international conventions after years of campaigning. This is a welcome, positive step in making Hong Kong better for working parents, but we have significant strides to still make before we can dub Hong Kong a city that is friendly to working mothers.
In 2018, an Equal Opportunities Commission study found that less than 50% of firms would hire women with children. This shocking statistic spotlights the deep seated prejudice that mothers still face in their careers. The pandemic has created additional challenges for working mothers. UN Women noted that the average woman now spends a full working day a week more than the average man on childcare responsibilities, a 20% increase from pre-pandemic days. We know these added parental responsibilities are often coupled with other caregiving and household responsibilities.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are examples of best practice that recognise unpaid childcare and reduce the obstacles that mothers face in the workplace during COVID-19. South Korea and Germany are compensating parents for childcare and school closures. Monthly child allowances in Argentina have been extended to support lower income mothers. Parts of Europe are extending paid parental leave, while Australia opted to keep nurseries open during the pandemic.
As we start a new year, with the hopeful possibility of a return to a more normal world, we must learn lessons from the past 12 months. The pandemic has shown us the worth of the unpaid work that falls to women. Childcare must no longer be taken for granted. Work that is unpaid and unrecognised is no longer an option.
As part of TWF’s broader work to raise awareness on challenges faced by individuals with caregiving responsibilities, we actively support working mothers. Alongside challenging gender stereotypes that prevent women from thriving, we advocate for a suite of reforms among Government and employers to recognise and better support challenges facing working mothers, including gender neutral parental leave, flexwork, and affordable, accessible childcare options particularly under COVID-19. Our Male Allies Initiative encourages men to champion gender equality at work and take up their share of the unpaid labour at home, role modelling and normalising these actions to inspire other men to do the same.
We have the rare chance to re-model our world a more just and gender equal one, let’s not waste this opportunity.
Get in touch at Fiona.Nott@twfhk.org.