This Halloween, my costume was pretty vague. Bats on my leggings. A hat with cat ears. My baby strapped to me in a carrier with a Diá de los Muertos skull on it. But it’s okay, because I was surrounded by hundreds of women dressed as Egyptian mummies, and they were plenty badass for all of us.
Because I was part of the London edition of the March of the Mummies – a rally on parliament to improve the lot of women who have the gall to work and procreate. The truth is we have it pretty bad, and it’s only getting worse.
Every year, 54,000 women in the UK lose their jobs just because they’re pregnant. A further 390,000 are discriminated against at work. But, thanks to our labyrinthine legal system – not to mention the limited legal help available in these cases – less than 1% of them take legal action against the employers that treat them unfairly.
Even worse, the trend is worsening -- maternal dismissal and discrimination numbers have doubled in the last 10 years. So to address this, mums’ rights campaigners Pregnant Then Screwed put together the march - which occurred simultaneously in several cities.
The London edition began at Trafalgar Square, and with babies strapped to us and banners held high, we marched to Parliament Square, all trailing toilet paper and unravelling bandages, with our five demands:
- Increase the time limit to raise a tribunal claim from three months to (at least) six months
- Require companies to report on how many flexible working requests are made and how many are granted
- Give both parents access to six weeks non-transferable parental leave paid at 90 per cent of salary
- Give the self-employed access to statutory shared parental pay
- Subsidise childcare from six months old, rather than three years.
The irony of point number 4 hasn’t escaped me – my husband and I, both self-employed, had to return to work this year when our new baby was only two weeks old. It is this sort of injustice that inspired Joeli Brearley to found the movement:
“A mother contacted me yesterday to say she had been diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety following the bullying and harassment she had been subjected to by her employer while pregnant,” she told me.
Every year, 54,000 women in the UK lose their jobs just because they’re pregnant
“Behind closed doors mothers are victims of horrific workplace discrimination, and they are unable to talk about it due to gagging clauses and the fear of being branded a troublemaker. The government is ignoring us and we have had enough.’'
This is ridiculous and needs to stop now. Not least because the workplace is missing out. According to Brearley, the under-utilisation of women’s skills costs the UK economy £36 billion a year. And, as I have learned from almost three years of being a mother and knowing mothers, motherhood makes you productive and resilient. If you want to get something done, you ask a mum.