I had the most amazing meeting today. I was in a room with Ziya and seven grandmothers, just watching these amazing foremothers and forerunners lay the groundwork for generations of women who will come after them. We were meeting about the establishment of a National Commission on Women and, as usual, the discussion was all about strategy, next steps and the way forward. But what was amazing was being amidst the power in that room, experienced, capable, caring, fearless, skilled and hardworking women who were talking about their vision and how to make it happen. What an absolute privilege to be part of their history.
I was a little nervous about having Zi with me. Normally, she’s the bestest baby when she’s out. I could boast about this because when she misbehaves, it’s usually at home. She’s done more meetings that most 16 month-olds as well so I feel pretty confident about having her on the inside. Plus, she’s addicted to ‘boobs’ and easily zens out once she starts to breastfeed. So, once I breastfeed any and everywhere I need to, she handles being out and about like a pro. I fear the day (or night) I stop breastfeeding and don’t have the easiest solution to fussing at my fingertips.
Still, she wasn’t properly combed, I had broken my glasses and I was late for a meeting with the PM. Trying not to rush down the highway, I just hoped things would go smoothly. It’s one thing to have your baby at a meeting at Parliament, it’s another to arrive late with your baby, and it’s entirely something else if your baby decides to throw a tantrum for any reason. My mother had warned me that there might be a possible stinky pamper on the way too. Great.
Still, given the logistics of baby-sitting, and driving East to West and back again, this was the best option. So, mothering worker that I am, I put my child in some red shoes and put all my resources to work at managing to both pay attention to the discussion and to keeping Zi calm.
And it was okay. In fact, it was great. Before the Prime Minister came in, I listened to Minister Auntie Verna talk about how much she would love to spend all her time caring, feeding and spoiling her grandchildren, except there is the people’s work to do. The youth policy, the gender policy, the change to the marriage acts and more. At the last meeting, Jacquie Burgess had talked about how much her own grandson loved to spend the night. Brenda Gopeesingh, Hazel Brown, Ramona, Yvonne Bob Smith, Lisa Ghany – who first appeared a bit scandalised that against all proper protocol I had waltzed in with Zi and who later showed me little 10 month Leah who sleeps from 9pm to 7am(!) – and even the PM who reminded me so much of my mother when, beaming, she talked about the rejuvinating joy of spending time with her grandson. It’s then that I looked around the room and realised that all the women there were a generation before me. They were all that unmatchably wise kind of ancestor called grandmother. They also ran companies, ministries, women’s movements, NGOS and the nation.
While I held my breath throughout the meeting, just thankful that Zi was happy to quietly sit on my lap and scribble all over my notebook – and of course breastfeed in between – I also realised that all these women would have known exactly the challenge of juggling work and children. They would totally understand not only why I might have had to have Zi with me, but also why it should be okay to do so. We were doing work for women, work with women, and we all knew that the working world had to change to accomodate the ways that women do the work they have to, that is both the work of mothering and the work of movements, institutions, legislative agendas, policies, research, social protections and empowerment.
I felt so safe in that moment, so unselfconscious in a way I never would have – even as an unapologetic feminist – in a meeting of older men, unless they were the kind of men who wouldn’t blink an eye at the idea of taking your toddler with you to the boardroom. Those men are definitely out there, but I was nonetheless so thankful that women have broken the glass ceilings that they have, and can totally transform the expectations and assumptions of a space like Parliament without any of them needing to articulate this in words. I thought of the day when Parliamentarians could debate and breastfeed in the House or keep an eye on their grandchildren in a creche in a nearby room, in the same way that women for milennia have had their children and grandchildren with them while they do their work.
And, just as the meeting began with talk about mothering and grandmothering, so after the down-to-business stuff was done, conversation returned to extending maternity leave, the PM talking about having to study for law exams while her son cried and knowing through her own tears that she had to excel. Hazel heading to her car ever mindful of the first Shouter Baptist school about to open, and the lack of a safe and proper crossing for the children.
I never imagined I’d breastfeed through a meeting with the first woman PM while sitting next to tireless and history-making second wave African and Indian women’s activists as I participated and learned from just listening. I felt so lucky to somehow have ended up there. I looked down at Zi and wondered whether at my age she would ever have these moments of witnessing such women in action, not just on upper floors of high rise buildings, but wherever these women are. I hope she does. These meetings seem mundance but they inspire, and she’s been with me, learning from such women before she even realises that’s what is going on.