Blog: Is the system failing working mums?

With both major political parties announcing initiatives to keep women employed, why are so many hurdles placed in front of mothers looking to work, asks Saman Shad.

It's a big event when your child starts school. It's their first real step towards independence and also marks the point when they stop being the baby they will always be in your eyes.

Increasingly, however, it also marks the point where a lot of women have to re-evaluate their career choices.

It's not like working women haven't been here before. When our babies are born after the initial rush of love and excitement fades a little, we are reminded that if at some point in the future we want to keep working we must find adequate childcare.

It's at this point many women decide not to return to work – the expense of childcare, the inflexible working environment, not to mention the discrimination women face from the time they announce they are pregnant, keeps them away from the workforce. This means that only 9 per cent of women in Australia with infants aged 12-14 months work fulltime.

If mothers do overcome the various hurdles and keep working, many rely on long day care. But when children become school-aged the challenge of aligning school hours with working hours becomes more complicated.

For many parents the best option is after-school care onsite. However with long waiting-lists for after-school care, it's not an option for everyone. Willoughby Public in Sydney for example is accepting applications for 2018, pretty much for parents whose children have just been born.

So then it becomes a matter of doing the sums. Most nannies in Sydney charge around $25 an hour. If you're hiring them for, say, three hours a day that works out to $75 a day or $375 a week. That's close to $20k (with no Child Care Rebate payable). This amount doesn't include school holidays when you'll probably need more childcare. For many that's an unacceptable amount to pay for three hours of childcare a day.

And this is when a lot of women, because it almost always falls to women to make this choice, find themselves either dropping out of full-time work or looking at other options such as moving suburbs to find after-school care.

The question remains, why when both of our major political parties are announcing initiatives to keep women in work are so many hurdles placed in front of women (who also happen to be mothers) looking to work?

It might help us to look to countries like Sweden, where 70 per cent of mothers work . The way they achieve this is by offering a very generous 16-month paid family leave (for both mums and dads), a guaranteed spot in day care for all children over the age of one at a very modest sum, and by involving fathers more in the raising of their children.

While Australia doesn't quite measure up to Swedish standards, our workplace practices are still more family-friendly than those in countries like the United States. However, a lot more needs to be done. In order to enable more women to remain in the workforce, no matter what stage of life they are at, long-term thinking is required.

The current maternity leave and policies like Tony Abbott's Paid Parental leave still focus on the first 6-12 months of a child's life. They fail to recognise that childcare remains an issue till children become teenagers. That it doesn't suddenly stop being an issue once babies enter toddlerhood.

We also need to stop making this a “woman's” concern. Childcare shouldn't just be a woman's responsibility – it should be both parents.

No one calls men who work and who also happen to be fathers – working fathers. The same should apply to women. Once women's careers are given the same importance as men's, can we truly move to a situation where women don't suffer financially and career-wise just because they also happen to be mothers.

Source SBS

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