Suvra Rahman, Coordinator & Director, AE Academy, Toronto
Here is the dilemma of a woman’s life. Do I leave my child at home, go to work, or despite being educated enough be a stay-at-home mom? Attitudes about stay-at-home women vary across regions. Countries with relatively high proportions preferring families with stay-at-home women are typically developing countries in South Asia and the Middle East, including Bangladesh and Pakistan. In contrast, low proportions indicating preference for families with stay-at-home women are generally developed countries in Europe, including Denmark, Italy and Sweden. In between are both developing and developed countries such as Brazil, China, Russia and the United States, where about one-quarter of men and women prefer families with stay-at-home women. Statistics Canada states, the number of stay home mothers as a proportion of non working mothers has declined over time. In 1976, more than 9 in 10 non-working mothers in a single-earner family were stay-at-home parents. The rest were either unemployed, students or permanently unable to work. In 2015, almost three-quarters of non-working mothers were stay at-home moms, while one-quarter were either unemployed, students or unable to work.
I grew up in a household where my mother was a full-time working woman. I am almost in my fifties, so my mother joined the workforce in the 1970’s. She has a long struggling life, but I will make the long story short. She was married off at the age of 16 and she had me when she was 17!! Even though she was the eldest daughter-in-law and she had a lot of responsibilities in her in-law’s home; she didn’t give up on her studies. One thing I must mention here that behind my mother’s rise were three men: her father, father-in-law and husband (my father)!! I am stating this because it was the 1960’s, and it was in a district town in Bangladesh, so this was a highly unlikely scenario!!
Adding to my mother’s story, she passed school, higher secondary and then she did her graduation and master’s from the University of Dhaka. Hats off to her! She joined the workforce right after she did her Masters’. I remember the struggle she had to face while juggling her job, household work and me! Though my father was a very modern man believing in women’s rights, he never helped my mother her household work like cooking, cleaning and others. I remember, she had to leave me behind with household helpers. I am lucky that I was never maltreated by them, but I always felt her worries. I grew in a time when there was no TV or other means of entertainment and we lived in an apartment in Dhaka, so only the long balcony and my dolls were my entertainment.
It may sound that I was a lonely child being brought up on my own but that was not the case. My mother always made it a point that whenever she was home, she had her with me. Now I know how tiring that was; coming home from a 9 to 5 job. While she was getting ready for the cooking, she always kept me beside her talking to me about her day and my day. Later after dinner it was a tradition that she would read a story to me. When I started going to school, she took permission from the office to have some time to drop me off and pick me up also. Time management and rush, rush, rush …..that was her life. She never had any time for herself. She didn’t have any social contacts except for the relatives because she didn’t have time. But she is a successful mother because I grew up fine. Her sacrifice paid off.
History repeated itself when I grew up, finished my studies, joined the workforce, got married and had a child! Similar scenario…. only difference was I found a day care for my son. He stayed there till he started school. And in my time, life became faster, so I had a tougher time. My job took a lot of my time away from my son but I tried to make time for him but that was a struggle. My son was born in 1997, so he had the amenities like TV and Desktop computer. He passed his time happily without having me around! But me as my mother, always made it a point that I talked to my son everyday at least for a good amount of time. I did the drop off and pick up routine as well. Though it is a constant juggle, I do not feel intimidated by the expectation coming from society and family. But at the end of the day I feel tired! Then again when I see myself as an important part of the society and my family, I feel proud and rejuvenated. Summing up, life is a struggle once you wish to live a full life. If you decide that no, I do not want to give back to the world what I have learned and earned throughout my life, then you will not have the fulfillment of life. My only suggestion is that we must bring up our sons with the vision of respecting women, helping women on their way to the workforce and being out of the notion that kitchen is the best place for women. Thus, the world will be the utopia of our dreams where gender equality will really have a meaning.