IAMAS Public Letter Regarding COVID-19 Crisis

May 1 is International Workers Day. This year, Mother’s Day, an event that started as mothers’ protest against war, falls on May 10. That these two events are so close is fitting, particularly with millions of mothers around the globe picking up the extra work related to Covid-19. Caregiving, supporting distance learning, emotional bulwarking of families, and preparing more meals at home have been, in short order, thrust upon mothers everywhere – regardless of employment status. We are strong, but we are breaking.

The work of motherhood is not new, but it is getting harder. The economy demands better prepared workers, economic downturns impact mothers disproportionately, and women face an increase in service-sector and healthcare hours – fields that skew female and seldom pay a living wage. In short, mothers are holding our nations together with next to no support.

We at IAMAS (International Association of Maternal Action and Scholarship) fiercely believe the fight for equality has ignored the needs of mothers and careworkers – groups that are comprised of nearly all women. Equality is even more elusive for mothers who identify with historically marginalized groups.

We are at the crossroads and we can do better. Therefore, IAMAS recommends the following:

First, provide equitable support for mothering and carework. Women do the vast share of carework – both paid and unpaid – within families and in the public sector for the young, old, and disabled. Engaging in the critical work of mothering and carework should not increase a person’s chance of enduring poverty, as it does currently. All carework – including mothering – should be government-subsidized and pay a living wage.

Second, accessible, affordable, and excellent childcare should be the norm. Due to Covid-19, many more people are waking up to the sheer impossibility of combining work and childcare well. Governments and businesses have relied on women to support their goals for free by providing a well-trained workforce while sustaining substantial personal financial risk. Childcare costs more than what many under-remunerated women earn. Being able to engage as a mother and a worker is critical, and not enabling this is an inexcusable talent drain.

Third, work must be flexible, sustainable, and pay a living wage. Accommodating non-standard work is possible and allows more people to flourish. More than ever we need workers to be supported while we do the important work of rebuilding the economy. Everyone must be able to take time off to tend themselves or others without risking financial security or one’s career. We need the best and brightest – many of whom are mothers. All work is essential work and should pay accordingly.

Fourth, healthcare, including mothering and caretaking, is a human right. Humans need to be tended mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Those who mother and provide care need comprehensive, affordable, and accessible healthcare that is not tied to employment. Carework, whether via childcare, eldercare, or psychological support, ensures a healthy citizenry, and mothers remain at the center of this work. Their work must be supported economically and culturally in return.

Fifth, we must value what is invaluable. Most of us have realized recently how important relationships, hugs, and our communities are to us. Mothers need respect, not reverence. Carework is central to every human being’s life, yet this work remains un- and under-remunerated at a vast scale. Neoliberal policies as well as structural systems of patriarchal control and racism are at the heart of this injustice. We must be committed to reforming all three, focusing first on those most negatively impacted.

While Covid-19’s global turmoil is unsettling, it gives us the opportunity to re-evaluate and re-imagine the future. We, who have always been responsible for birthing (in many forms) the next generation, are doing more than ever. We must disperse the work, demand more support, and expect everyone to contribute fairly and equitably as we move forward. These policy recommendations are the beginning.