Ten point nine trillion dollars is so much money. Ten point nine trillion dollars is so much money that if you’re not a numbers person like me, it’s kind of impossible to even conceptualize. Ten point nine trillion dollars is the amount of money, according to a recent report by Oxfam, that women would have earned last year if paid minimum wage for their unpaid work, as Kimberly Seals Allers points out in her March 2020 The Washington Post piece 10 ways to honor the work of motherhood during Women’s History Month.
This work includes “routine housework, child care, shopping for household items, tending to elderly relatives and other caregiving that is never acknowledged by economists or society.”
What might this amount look like if calculated during COVID-times, when we consider the added responsibilities many mothers took on as schools closed down, as many reinvented and re- engineered our careers, household duties and other contributions?
No one says it better than Seals Allers:
“No one should work free, yet our society accepts and even expects that mothers do just that. Being priceless and worthless at the same time is a terrible state of affairs.
And if we only celebrate our ‘worker’ identity and not our ‘mother’ identity, we risk contributing to the ongoing division of roles that forces many women to feel like they have to choose which identity is more important, then prove it. This can’t be good for women’s futures.”
Breastfeeding in America just might be the epitome of Seals Allers’ “priceless and worthless at the same time” argument.
In a publication from this spring, authors Julie P. Smith and Nancy Folbre write “Breastfeeding is an example of how the economy is mismeasured: the market value of milk formula production and sales are counted in a nation’s GDP, but the value of breast milk production is not.”
Blogger To-wen Tseng explores this phenomenon in What if we include the work of “Breast milk Production” in the GDP?
Smith and Folbre further consider that women and children who have not breastfed have higher rates of illness, chronic disease and hospitalization- a financial detriment to the health system “and to families of this additional illness and disease are (perversely) counted as increasing GDP.”
What’s more, several years ago “a path-breaking study estimated that premature cessation of breastfeeding cost the global economy around $300 billion a year due to diminished human capital,” Smith and Folbre write. More massive numbers generated by the humans and their work that are completely undervalued in our society.
World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) launched the Empowering Parents Campaign, an effort that aims to protect gender equitable workplace policies and conditions,promote parent-friendly and support equitable values, social norms and practices and gender equitable policies and legislation at all levels.
WABA highlights some important facts and figures in regard to the workforce:
- “Every additional month of paid maternity leave decreases the infant mortality rate by 13%. https://gh.bmj.com/content/2/3/e000294?cpetoc=&utm_source=trendmd&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=bmjgh&utm_content=consumer&utm_term=1-B
- Globally, more than 800 million women workers still do not have adequate maternity protection and take up rates among men of parental leave are low. https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_348035/lang–en/index.htm
- We will only achieve full equality for women in the workplace if men and boys do their share of care work. https://www.savethechildren.net/sites/default/files/libraries/state-of-the-worlds-fathers_12-june-2015.pdf
- Women are more likely to stay in their job in the longer term, if they can breastfeed at work. https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_218710/lang–en/index.htm”
As part of this campaign, WABA has also curated a Parents at Work Advocacy Tool where one can explore nationally mandated leave and breastfeeding breaks by region.
MomsRising has also compiled an easy-to-engage Workplace Justice page where one can find simple action tools in an effort to advance equal pay, paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, breastfeeding rights, and other workplace justice policies from the local to federal levels.
As if we weren’t already in a dire need to reform work justice, the onset of COVID has truly exposed the need to reevaluate our values and the practices and policies that uphold them.
While the pandemic has eroded work-life boundaries, author Chloe Schama wonders if breastfeeding on Zoom will break the work-life barrier once and for all.
Schama writes, “…There’s no telling whether this unplanned social experiment will be a net positive for employees and employers when the dust finally settles.”
This Labor Day, let’s mobilize (even if the path is still dusty) and push for parental social protection. Visit United States Breastfeeding Committee’s (USBC) active legislation page to get involved with legislative and policy opportunities that can help create a landscape of breastfeeding support across our country.