A march will take place at Belfast City Hall today as part of a UK wide campaign ‘March of the Mummies’ organised by pressure group Pregnant Then Screwed that will see similar rallies against work place discrimination, take place in London, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle.
Single mum and key co-ordinator Collette Cassin has urged people to attend and make their voice heard, “if you believe women and men deserve to have both a family and a career.”
At 12 noon today, Collette will be joined by guest speakers including Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alliance’s Nuala McAllister, Dr Siobhan O’Neill, Professor of Mental Health Sciences at the University of Ulster, Patricia McKeown, Unison, Sinead Sharkey, leader of the Women’s Equality Party NI and Kellie Turtle, WDA women’s sector lobbyist.
At Halloween, the campaign, aptly named ‘March of the Mummies’, will urge the Government to make five legislative changes which will decrease maternity discrimination and will improve the outlook for working mothers. Supporters will be outlining the plight that haunts 77 per cent of new mums, pushes one in nine pregnant women out of their job (EHRC, 2016) and is a key contributor to the gender pay gap.
Collette Cassin, a qualified counsellor who is leading the Belfast rally, believes it is time to speak out so in 20 years’ time her daughter Brooke (now aged eight) doesn’t have to.
She said: “I was 40-years old when I found out I was pregnant. I carried on working but under instruction from my GP went on maternity leave early. When it was time to return to work, I began to put provisions in place, sought out a child minder and contacted my place of work. I was told immediately that my request for flexible working hours was not good for business and was then offered night time and weekend work which was hardly suitable. I was gutted as well as concerned about my baby. Like any mother, I wanted to provide for her but couldn’t.”
“It had a knock on effect on my self-esteem and self-worth. I loved my job and wanted to remain there. I couldn’t understand why this was happening. Why wasn’t I able to return to my job? I went on to work with Women’s Aid and that’s when I decided to train to be a counsellor. This has led me here today, to campaign not just for pregnant women but also for men; for the entire family unit to be better supported. Fair and flexible working is good for mothers, fathers, families and of immense benefit to business.”
Dr Siobhan O’Neill, Professor of Mental Health Sciences at the University of Ulster said: “There is a wealth of evidence showing the importance of maternal mental health for the wellbeing of the child across the lifespan. By protecting women from discrimination and unfair treatment during their pregnancy and after the birth, we are safeguarding the interests and wellbeing of the next generation. This is particularly important in Northern Ireland where we know our children may already suffer as a consequence of the transgenerational impact of the Troubles. It is time, we as a society demonstrate our respect for the vital work that parents do by giving them adequate time and space to care for their babies. As well as being ethically sound, parent friendly policies will pay dividends to the employer in the form of a more satisfied, productive and committed workforce.”
Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, said: “I started Pregnant Then Screwed in 2015 after I was a victim of pregnancy discrimination. Since then I have spoken to thousands of women who have been sacked, made redundant, their careers have stagnated, they have been demoted, bullied and harassed all for daring to want a family and a career. We deserve better. To fix this problem we need a cultural shift in the way we work, the way we support working families, the way we view motherhood and issues with accessing justice. Today I will be marching, arm in arm, with other mothers who are demanding recognition, respect and change.”
In each city at noon there will be a series of speakers alongside entertainment from bands and choirs to face painting and fancy dress. The main demonstration will be in London’s Trafalgar Square, with a march down to Westminster.
Attendees are encouraged to dress up as mummies (the walking dead kind) to highlight the archaic behaviour of some employers.