Tag Archives: Mothers

Working Women of Color in Crisis

On Monday, March 8 as we celebrated International Women’s Day, I received many empowering messages from my female friends from all walks of life.  But at this moment in history, the irony of the situation is that while women have made tremendous strides in the workplace with fulfilling careers and increasing pay in the past half-century, the pandemic has upended all that progress in just one year.  

Workforce participation of women has reached a level last seen in 1988.  The Gender Wage gap is estimated to widen even further from 81 cents on the dollar to 76 cents on the dollar.  

President Biden has called it a national emergency and on that same Monday, March 8 on International Women’s Day, he signed an executive order establishing the Gender Policy Council within the White House to focus on uplifting the rights of women and address gender-based discrimination and violence among many other such goals.  But a telling addition to his broad gender policy initiative was its particular focus on addressing the coronavirus pandemic and its disproportionate impact on women by engaging with the White House coronavirus task force. 

Here are some sobering statistics from the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.  Nearly 3 million women in the U.S. have left the labor force in the past year. Those who are employed make up an outsized share of the high-risk essential workforce, holding 78% of all hospital jobs, 70% of pharmacy jobs, and 51% of grocery store jobs. Two out of three women are caregivers, putting them at risk of depression and anxiety. Nearly two-thirds of mothers are in charge of supporting their children’s remote learning. 

“We saw all of these economic cleavages that were underneath those gains laid bare for us,” says C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D.,  president, and chief executive officer of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Women fell out of the workforce at four times the rate of men and have a disproportionate number of job losses mainly because they are overrepresented in the hardest-hit sectors like the service sector, leisure, hospitality, education, and healthcare.  Black and Latino women in particular make up a little over a quarter of all jobs in the service sector.  If you couple this with the lower wages, pay inequality, fewer benefits in those jobs, it has been economically devastating for the women in this country.  

We were already dealing with a broken child care infrastructure and the pandemic brought this into focus for many American families.  School closures had a disproportionate effect on women as well.  In August 2020, when schools did not reopen, 860,000 women exited the workplace because they had to make the tough choice between their families and their jobs. 

Many of these women according to Dr. Mason are the primary breadwinners in their family and make less than 40k a year but still had to make this desperate choice because their children were failing virtual school.

Not surprisingly,  mothers are also doing a disproportionate share of pandemic parenting, regardless of employment. This raises the question, why are mothers taking on so much more of the parenting responsibilities during this pandemic, even when they have a partner who could share the duties? And especially when those partners see the devastating effect it is having on the mothers, both emotionally and economically. 

“This is because of the gendered structures of paid work that existed long before the pandemic” according to Dr. Jessica Calarco, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University Bloomington. This division of unpaid labor that women in families have always done has been starkly laid bare during this pandemic.  Women are in crisis. They are tired, depressed, and scared.

Many of the work-from-home mothers described having little choice but to sacrifice their paid work for their families during the pandemic because they were the only parent able to work from home or they earned substantially less than their male partners or because their children demanded more of their attention at home.  This leads to a combination of frustration, resentment, and then guilt – all taking a toll on their wellbeing and having an adverse effect on all aspects of their family’s life. 

More than a quarter of mothers report more verbal or physical fights with their partners or spouses.  30% say they are yelling more at their kids.  Another third says they are more frustrated with their children. Mothers also feel tremendous guilt at the amount of screen time their children are exposed to, because of virtual school and for entertainment. 

Dr. Calarco’s research shows that the pandemic is having serious consequences for mothers’ paid work, relationships, and wellbeing. She says these inequalities exposed by the pandemic reflect the gendered inequalities in our workplace and are “not just the function of men not stepping up to do their part”.  They are a function of failed policies, of the lack of affordable childcare, and lack of maternity leave.  This forced women into lower-paid jobs and part-time work even before the pandemic and now leave them feeling like “they have no choice but to sacrifice their own careers and wellbeing for their husband’s higher earning jobs.” 

When the recovery begins, it is very important to create economic policies that support this sector that was hardest hit – women and especially women of color and lower-wage workers. Some of the policies that could help women recover their place in the workplace include a minimum wage increase, especially for women of color.  If the Federal government cannot pass this legislation, follow the lead of many states and cities that have done so.  Healthcare, childcare support, and paid leave investments are also critical policies that need to be legislated.  Education and job training opportunities for women coming back to work after the pandemic is also critical.  And most importantly, we need vaccines in the arms of all Americans so that we can safely open schools and daycares and get women back to work.  

Corporate America should open back-to-work programs and reduce barriers for women to return to work. Paid leave and childcare facilities could increase flexibility that frankly, most employees with families want.   In many cases, the executives who are women and mothers with children at home and are saying to Maria Aspan, senior writer at Fortune,  “I am not just worrying about this for my employees, I am living this.”

There is a genuine desire to work on these issues, but, says Ms. Aspan, we have to wait to see if there is “any action behind the rhetoric”. 

This is a unifying time for all women, of all socioeconomic levels, that have been hit hard by this pandemic. We need to hold both the government and the private sector accountable.  It is time for all of us to band together to advocate for policies that will help all women thrive emotionally and economically.  And we will take our partners with us into this more equitable future.


Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality, and public education.

Photo by Brian Wangenheim on Unsplash

Desi Feminist Men – It Does Not Have To Be An Oxymoron

(Featured Image: Cover of the book, Men and Feminism: Seal Studies by Shira Tarrant)

In its simplest form, feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” In other words, because women have traditionally had fewer rights, feminism is about asserting and working to achieve equal rights for women. However, nowhere does this imply that achieving equality should be solely women’s fight or women’s goal.

There are but scarce instances when men made it their business to fight for women’s causes. A shining example is the active participation of Indian men in the many marches that took place all over India in 2012 after the horrific “Delhi rape.” Rather than retreating behind rationalizations such as “men will be men,” or “it has always been thus,” or blaming women for their choice of attire and pursuit of activities outside the safe confines of home, thousands of men agitated for respect and safety for the women in their lives — their daughters, mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, coworkers, and neighbors. The men showed that women’s lives matter and that they matter to them.

In taking this proactive stand, the men were following the example set by a few men who came before. In this essay, I want to highlight a few of them.

Dr. Anand-bai Joshee

I am sure many know about Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, India’s first woman doctor, and her heroic struggle to bring medical care to the women of India. I just published “Radical Spirits,” her deeply-researched biography. In the course of my research, I came across a letter that her husband, Gopal, wrote in 1878 to an American missionary requesting help to educate his wife. The letter makes an eloquent and heartfelt case for the importance of empowering women and men’s essential role in making that happen:

Ever since I began to think independently for myself, female education has been my favorite subject. I keenly felt the growing want of it to raise the nation to eminence among civilized countries. It is the source of happiness in a family. As every reform must begin at home, I considered it my duty to give my wife a thorough education, that she might be able to impart it to her country-sisters…. On the other hand, female education is much looked down upon among my people… My attempts have been frustrated, my object universally condemned by my own people. … and yet I cannot give up the point. I will try to the last, there being nothing so important as female education for our elevation morally and spiritually.

Gopal Joshee believed that it was important to educate and empower women, but not just for their own good. He saw that this was an indispensable component of the good of families, communities, and country. Indeed, he went so far as to state that the state of women was a hallmark of a civilized society. And, in pursuit of this goal, he stood alone against his community and defied its regressive views.

Another great example of a feminist man is Ziauddin Yousufzai, father of Malala. In his TED talk, he said:

Ladies and gentlemen, this plight of millions of women could be changed if we think differently, if women and men think differently, if men and women in the tribal and patriarchal societies in the developing countries, if they can break a few norms of family and society, if they can abolish the discriminatory laws of the systems in their states, which go against the basic human rights of the women.

In other words, he made it his personal mission to empower his own daughter and to champion the empowerment of girls and women all over the world. The title of his memoir, “Let Her Fly,” says it all.

These two men, Gopal Joshee and Ziauddin Yousufzai, are separated by almost 150 years. Ironically, both were thrust into the limelight because of the tragedies of their protégés. However, these tragedies now live on as triumphs. Despite Anandi Joshee’s early death, or maybe because of the shock and tremendous loss that it represented, segments of 19th century Indian society took a decisive turn towards acknowledging women’s full humanity and their potential. Similarly, because of the violent attack on young Malala, there is greater awareness all over the world of girls’ right to education and empowerment.

Fortunately, tragedy is no longer a prerequisite to creating fundamental change for women. There can be no better example of this than what Indian states are doing to ensure and encourage access to education for girls.

  1. Tamil Nadu: The government offered a 50% subsidy to girls/women to buy scooters and laptops
  2. Uttarakhand: Girls enrolled in school get free bicycles
  3. Kerala: Sanitary napkin vending machines have been made mandatory in all higher secondary schools
  4. Karnataka: Girls studying in government and aided private degree colleges receive free education
  5. Gujarat: Free medical education to female students

Undoubtedly, there are countless nameless men fighting the good fight within their circles of influence, be it in their families or workplaces, or communities. For example, I know of a farmer who sold part of his land to finance the education of his daughters.

However, the battle is far from over. Many issues continue to challenge women. Starting from the management of menstruation and early marriage to access to education and medical care, they extend all the way to sexual harassment and rape, family and maternity leave, and equal pay.

So, here is a challenge for men to be more active feminists. Encourage your daughter as much as you do your son. Create a safe and welcoming family and work environments. Agitate for equal pay for women. Be compassionate and generous to your women coworkers and your subordinates (including household help where applicable).

Make every day Women’s Day and make every month Women’s History Month. The goal should be to make women’s disempowerment a historical artifact rather than a present-day scourge. Rather than diminish your power, it will only empower YOU more.


Nandini Patwardhan is a retired software developer and co-founder of Story Artisan Press. Her writing has been published in, among others, the New York Times, Mutha Magazine, Talking Writing, and The Hindu. Her book, “Radical Spirits,” tells the deeply-researched story of Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, India’s first woman doctor.
Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Adversity, A Blessing in Disguise

Worlds over, the COVID-19 lockdown has brought out the creative potentials of millions of the people. Numerous anecdotes have been shared in the media about how migrant workers were returning to their homes on foot walking hundreds of kilometres, a mother from Telengana making a solo motorbike trip of 1400 KMs to Nellore to bring back her son stranded there, and a host of similar experiences. Our family had one such real-life experience to share. 

My brother’s daughter and her husband are residents of Australia and living in Melbourne. She was expecting her first child by the end of April 2020. February 2020, her mother left for Australia to be with her daughter during the period of delivery, as many of us have been doing for our children living abroad. In Australia, the parents of my brother’s son-in-law had gone to Sydney where their elder son was residing. They were also awaiting the happy news of grandparent-hood. Come COVID-19, the whole world appears to have come under a single-command universe. All around the world, there were lockdown of all shops, malls, offices, and advising the staff to work from home. Social distancing has been on everyone’s lips. Wearing a mask has become mandatory. A uniform pattern has been emerging in fighting this COVID-19.

On 22nd March 2020, I received a WhatsApp call from my brother’s wife. I wondered if her daughter’s delivery date had advanced and she wanted to share the good news of the newborn baby girl. 

“Hope, the delivery was OK!” I asked, as I was trying to cope with my onslaught of thoughts.

“No, Mama, I have come back to Chennai and so have our son-in-law’s parents. We traveled together from Australia.” 

“What about the delivery of the child? Why did all of you come back?”

“In view of COVID-19, the Australian government as an abundant precaution has advised those foreign nationals who are above 50 years of age to go back to their respective countries. So, our son-in-law and our daughter expressed their concerns that if we fall sick under COVID-19, our medical expenses will not be covered by the insurance policies and the hospitalization expenses will be prohibitive. We decided to return, leaving both of them to manage themselves during this critical period,” she reasoned.

I was shell shocked. My thoughts raced back to my childhood days. In the fifties and sixties of the last century, childbirth events in our home used to be facilitated by a mid-wife visiting us; she would help the woman in labor pains delivering the child. Later, this system was replaced by a nurse doing the same tasks. Slowly, taking women to hospitals became the norm. But, almost in all these cases, the entire support system will be from the girl’s parent’s side, everyone chipping in to reduce the rigor of the tasks. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a child’s delivery in the absence of this familial help. 

“Hey, in your absence, who will take care of her?”

“Don’t worry, Mama, she is a real courageous Mumbai born woman. They are confident in handling the events themselves. Fortunately, COVID-19 has made both of them quarantine at home and they have stacked their house with staples and vegetables for one month. The hospital is just a ten minute drive away from their home. So, let us hope things will turn out good for us.”

“Offer your prayers to our Kula Deivam (family deity) and keep a ten rupee coin tied in turmeric water-soaked cloth. Keep me posted. I will also speak to both of them.”

“OK, Mama. I will do as advised by you.”

On 27 April 2020, my brother phoned up and conveyed the happy news that his daughter has delivered the girl baby at 08 09 hours. Both the mother and the child are safe. A cute photo of the child was immediately shared through WhatsApp with our family members.

Adversity is a blessing in disguise and it brings out the best in us. These young couples have proved it. While COVID-19 has affected the livelihoods of thousands of workers, it has a flip side too. It makes one stronger. See, my brother’s daughter is the first woman in our family who has delivered a child and managing chores without any support from the parents. Hats off to this 21st Century woman and her newborn girl.

Dr. S Santhanam is a writer, a blogger, and a retired General Manager of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. Born (1948) in Kumbakonam, the temple town of South India, I studied in the popular Town High School (Where Great Mathematician Shri Ramanujam also was born and did his schooling) and graduated in Mathematics from the Government College. 

Mother Says So…

A mother’s love is that divine gift that enables a child to do their best.  Mother is not a noun but a verb that personifies unselfish love. We are all connected to our mothers through a special bond even after the umbilical cord is cut. Sooner or later we all start emulating our maternal traits, some of us more than others. 

I remember my mother every morning when I wake up. I open my eyes to my palms and recite the morning prayer. During the day the Rudraksh beads of practical wisdom from her rosary guide my actions. At night when my head touches the pillow, it is her voice that calls upon me to surrender myself to the creator: “Om Hari Sharna”.

I am fortunate like many of you to have a very loving, kind, courageous, talented, and devoted mother. How I wish I could be with her on this Mother’s Day but I cannot travel to India because of the COVID pandemic. It breaks my heart but assembling the pieces of my love for her into a collage, I share this writing as an homage to all our mothers. In my conversations with friends and family on the phone, FaceTime, Facebook, Instagram, and zoom, I have gathered stories about mothers all over the world.

One of my friends said that her mother has a rule, “Never leave the house without saying I love you to your brothers and sisters. You don’t know when you would be together again.” She also said, “Contentment is a difficult virtue but not unattainable” What good advice.

Another lady’s mother went by, “Beauty is what beauty does!”

One mother bade her child to stay organized and she obeyed by keeping an immaculate home. 

A lovely southern belle shared her mother’s advice: “Always be polite and well dressed”. Your good manners can take you around the world. 

My aunt advised her daughters not to do everything themselves even if they knew how to do it. Let your children learn for themselves. Excellent advice, I wish I would have heeded this one. Because of her teaching, my friends and cousins have become experts at delegating their chores to others. Very convenient indeed! 

My aunt always had useful culinary advice. This came in handy before instant cooking and googling recipes was a fad. She said, “If you don’t want to spend your time in the kitchen, rolling rotis for your brood, just make them all rice eaters.” Although I love a fresh chapati with ghee on occasions, we generally cook rice to go with our vegetables.

My son admits that I taught him to be polite to everyone. I think somewhere, in all the telling of stories and reciting poems during his childhood, my sweetness might have taken hold in his nature.

My mother told me not to openly voice my opinion about others but I have not followed this advice. In my personal life, I am known to speak my mind, like my dad. My daughter overlooks my stubborn streak most of the time and we enjoy creative activities together. I paint and write and she creates my Instagram and web pages. My daughter is an honest critic. When I really need advice I go to her.

My grandson had some interesting inputs. He said, “My mother has taught me to say thank you, sorry and to cover coughs and sneezes”.  All helpful tips indeed.

I asked him what I had taught him? He said, “To say Hanjee instead of Haan.” I still think that he does not understand that it is meant as a sign of respect to others and not a mere grammatical appendage that he constantly forgets. 

My mother also said that save your money because ultimately it will help you in any dire circumstance. This is so true in the time of the pandemic when so many of us have to rely on our savings for food, shelter, healthcare, and helping the needy.

Mother taught a lot through her actions. She started her day early, in “Brahma Muhurta”. This good habit gave her an early start into bathing, prayers, gardening, cooking, and reading the morning newspaper. By the time other members of the house woke up, breakfast was ready on the table. She knew that a way to everyone’s heart was through their stomachs. We had fresh food every day: parathas and pickles, poori aloo, omelet toast, upama, idli sambar, and seviyan. 

At home, we kids did not have a natural inclination to learn cooking or help her in domestic chores. She never complained working on her on but was most particular about her afternoon siesta. She took a thirty-minute nap every day and no one could disturb that. We kids squirmed and protested but that was a ritual we all had to follow. Mother was very determined but her effect was gentle and angelic. She never laughed or cried loudly. Very ladylike was her expression and perhaps because of that she has a smooth unwrinkled face to this day. She was able to sense my dad’s moods and always cautioned us, kids, to behave accordingly. We had wonderful conversations at the dinner table which are dearly missed but I don’t miss having to gulp down spinach with water.

My mother often said, “Apne Hath Jagannath.”

As I was explaining the meaning of this cryptic phrase to my friends, I realized that my mother literally took my hands and put them to action. She gave me the gift of an industrious life when she presented me with a sketchbook and colors. Wherever we went, we carried our hobby bag with us.

Ever since then, I have tried to create my own world through medicine, art, and writing. Creativity is my life mantra. I gaze upon the elegant visage of my mother as she tries to bless me by touching my forehead through the phone, I feel humbled. There are not enough words, phrases, poems, or songs in this language that would encompass my feelings of deep gratitude for my mother. But I don’t have to…

There is a woman in the house

Her breath rises and falls

She rests her head on my shoulder 

We both read from the same page

Our eyes close

We hold kindness

We are happy…

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

A Mother’s Unconditional Love

Wooooooosh, a loud exhale, and then a soft inhale. I could hear my young daughter quietly scurry across the hallway calling her brother in hushed tones. Long before I knew it, they both were sitting in the lotus yoga pose, imitating me, with their eyes closed, making those absurd exhale wooshes. Along came a giggle and then another until they fell over laughing holding their tummies, making me laugh out loud while enjoying this strong mother-child bond. 

Motherhood is the noblest of callings and a privilege to be entrusted with a tiny human life. Motherly love is unconditional and is the foundation of a child’s growth. This kind of love helps foster self-confidence and has a long-lasting impact on developing their minds and shaping their conscience.

The role of the mother is to watch, teach, guide, and help in the growth and development of a child. There is an unfathomable, deep, trusting love that connects mother and child.

Motherhood for me is a privilege and an adventure. It is guiding my children to be the best versions of themselves and make good choices. To help them to grow to be kind, confident, caring, and loving. To be their cheerleader, to hold their hand, and at the same time teach them boundaries. Being a mother is ensuring a feeling of safety and love though it sometimes comes with fears, worries, and heartache. Motherhood is a gift to be grateful for and the joy of seeing the wonders through your children’s eyes

Don’t we all come to a realization that “Oh no, I have become my mother.” It is not a bad thing. You start saying some phrases like her and even your expressions take on those of your mothers.  I recall my charming mother who took the time to talk to me about politics, finance, and just about everything. She was full of life and came down to my level of wanting to have fun and a deep bond grew. I am so grateful that she was my guiding light.  I miss and thank you, mom!

You don’t need Mother’s Day to take time to talk with your mom and give her some of your time. We tend to hear about ourselves but do we take time to ask our moms more about themselves? Here are a few questions to help you. 

(i) What’s something you wanted to do but didn’t….why? 

(ii) Who were your role models when you were young and do you have any now?

(iii) Was there a situation that made you see the world differently?

(iv) What was the first year of motherhood like for you?

(v) Describe your perfect day.

Being a mother is a joyous gift, being blessed and also the toughest with its fears and worries. Take heart in the love you receive from your mother…she holds your soul in her heart! 

Geetanjali Arunkumar is a writer, artist, life coach. She is also the illustrator of the oil painting used as the featured image. 

A “Job” Well Done: A Poem For My Daughter

Finding you Fearless I taught you to  Fear.

Eternally Curious… I taught you Indifference.

Charmingly Honest… I taught you Pretence.

Openly Friendly… I taught you Caution.

Implicitly Trusting… I taught you to Doubt.

Clingingly Needy… I taught you Independence

…and considered it a ‘Job’ well done!

Now My Child, it’s your turn. 

Hold my hand and teach me to be…

Fearless.

Curious.

Honest.

Friendly.

Trusting.

Needy. 

Do your “Job.” 

Teach me to Love!

 Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. She has held art shows in London, Bangalore and locally here in California.