To Work or Not To Work?

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female graduateMoira decided to quit her job when she had her first baby. She grew up in a metropolitan city in Southern Africa with parents who both earned a living and contributed financially to the economic well being of their family. Her mother and all the women in the family were upset with this decision and have  been urging her to go back to work. In part she felt guilty about leaving her child at daycare in the hands of strangers, not to mention that it is expensive but for her money is not an object. On the other hand she feels guilty about quitting her good job to be a stay at home money when her mother struggled to go to school to even earn a living.

Her mother like many other women who grew up during colonialism when money was scarce and resources were limited had to work in the fields on the white farms to finance her education because her grandfather did not believe in educating girls. Her grandmother grew vegetables which she sold to the women who sold at the market so that she could provide school fees for Moira’s mother. It was extremely gratifying when Moira’s mother was accepted in nursing school. During colonialism the career options for Africans were limited and for African women they were even less. Moira’s mother graduated from nursing school and became a source of pride for her mother and an inspiration to the rest of the family. She was able to lift her family out of poverty and provide for her parents living and healthcare much to their delight, even the grandfather agreed that he had been wrong about not educating girls.

African-Mother-and-Child-Mishimoto-CC-FlickrMoira’s mother changed careers after independence and pursued other opportunities in the corporate world. Having a job and contributing to the family bottom-line definitely gave Moira’s mother a voice in the family regarding how the money was spent. In Moira’s defense of course I can see the lure of taking a break from the corporate world. Moira lives in America where the business world is male dominated and women’s concerns sidelined. She would only get 6 weeks for maternity leave which meant that she would have to work till Friday and give birth the very next day. In addition to this her department is male dominated and the men’s wives are stay at home Mom, leaving very little empathy for her doctor visits or time off to pick up her sick child or take her child to the doctor. Another co-worker had to quit her job in the department after being labeled ‘lazy’ or requiring special treatment because she was the only mother with a baby.

One would think the point of having an education is to give you the option of whether or not to work? Apparently not for all the African women who view Moira’s choice as setting her career backwards and setting the women’s movement  backward. Society is now assuming that if you go to school and have degrees sometimes multiple degrees you cannot every stop working. However, women still need to have a choice to stay home with their children or go to work. Education is about giving women choices not constraining them to choose only one way.

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