To enable working mothers to balance childcare and self-realization and return to the workplace, it is necessary to guarantee the right to employment and establish a comprehensive support system.

According to 2016 statistics from the Comptroller's Office of the Administrative Agency, the turnover rate of Taiwanese women after marriage is as high as 29.9%, and it will take more than six years for these women to be able to return to the workplace. Why do these women, who had their own careers before giving birth, have to give up or leave the workplace after the birth of their children?

The reasons for this are quite complex, in addition to the fact that the work environment not only does not provide corresponding understanding and flexibility for "working mothers", but even makes it difficult to understand how much time women give up behind the role responsibilities they are given, and what necessary commitments they have.

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According to psychological clinical statistics, the most common lesions of working women are insomnia and anxiety, especially 35 to 50-year-old professional women are a typical "sandwich generation", with parents and children, under the influence of family and work, women gradually overdraft their physical and mental physical strength, and finally need to give up or choose because it is difficult to take care of multiple roles.

Women's special workplace dilemma

Many people will ask, since marriage and childbirth is a "matter of two people" that both partners need to have a consensus to promote, why do so many so-called "consequences" need to be borne by women? There are too many structural factors behind this, and its invisibility has always made women feel most powerless in the face of fertility issues.

In the 2019 South Korean movie "Kim Ji-young born in 82", the husband played by Kong Liu said to his wife Ji-young: "Having a child will not change anything." Throughout the two-hour plot, this sentence continues to appear in different variations.
For example, the rehabilitation doctor said to Ji Young: "The rice is cooked in an electronic pot, and the clothes are washed in the washing machine, why do your wrists hurt"; Before marriage, her husband said to Jiyoung: "Don't worry, I will also 'help' after marriage, go home early, and I can't drink with friends to renew the stall."

In these seemingly customary conversations, in addition to the hidden costs that women as mothers have to bear alone under the existing social structure, they also include all the underestimated mother's labor, mother's role, and mother's responsibility.

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According to the results of the 1111 Manpower Bank's recent survey on the salary of men and women in the workplace, more than two-thirds of office workers believe that workplace performance is limited by gender, especially married women with children are the most affected. From the salary structure, it can be found that 52.9% of women earn lower salaries than men, and 40.7% of women have lower promotion opportunities than men, and the flexibility and possibility of salary adjustment and job category selection are also lower than that of men.

In the 2022 workplace DEI survey, women's fans also found that Taiwanese companies most often discriminated against and prejudiced against "gender (57.3%)", "age (50.9%)" and "physical appearance (41%)", and it is easy to put it into action and words, so that the test takers actually feel and experience.

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Moreover, among the many discrimination and prejudices against age and gender, many readers especially emphasized that "the workplace environment is not very friendly to the role of mothers, and they cannot understand difficulties".

It can be seen that women's salary growth and work ranks, especially after pregnancy, are relatively stagnant. In addition to the invisible gender ceiling in the workplace, the main reason is that women have more onerous family care responsibilities than men.

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In the case of candles burning at both ends, women's responsibilities and expectations are not reduced but increased, and few companies can provide relatively flexible working conditions for working women, so that most married and childbearing women will choose to interrupt employment due to multiple factors such as family and childbirth.

At this turning point in life, women often have only two paths to choose: one is to be forced to give up their working life and return to their families; The second is to strive to take all responsibilities and become the perfect woman.

Many people will say that the modern workplace is friendly enough, and the family is no longer only for women to take care of the responsibility, where do these problems come from? Many times, the problem is realized, but it does not disappear, and this illusion also makes us lack attention.

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In 2018, the Taiwan Railway Union protested that the company discriminated against employees who returned to work after childcare, arguing that these employees who took parental leave "did not contribute to the company" and could not enjoy the same salary adjustment conditions as other employees.

Not only that, but the New York Times also reported on discrimination against working mothers five years ago, pointing out that an Illinois working mother filed a court complaint that her supervisor refused to reward her in accordance with company regulations, and even fired her on the grounds that her child was sick and absent from meetings.

Many times we always underestimate the power of "mother's discrimination" - in contemporary society, rejecting "sexism" has become the consensus of most people, but there are still a lot of people who accept and promote the continuation of "mother's discrimination".

Is "our family is under the control of our wives" empowered by women or evaded responsibility?

Workplace stereotypes are always assumed that "mothers" are no longer competitive in the workplace, have no intention of working, or are unable to contribute 100% of their focus to the workplace. However, strangely, some people do not think that a man is no longer competitive in the workplace after becoming a "father", or that it is difficult to commit to breakthroughs at work, and even more people believe that a man who shoulders the responsibility of a father is more trustworthy at work.

In these existing facts, we can see that society's responsibilities and imaginations of men and women as "parents" are completely different.

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According to a study published in 2018 in the American Journal of Sociology, when two candidates with the same education compete for the same job, the candidate as a mother has a 37% less chance of winning and a relatively low annual salary, and the same situation does not happen to the father.

This is also why men do not physically think that "marriage and childbirth" will actually have any impact on their career planning, on the contrary, for women in the workplace, marriage and childbirth to some extent means a certain degree of "freedom" and "opportunity" transfer, and where do these concessions come from?

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According to the BBC, housework after the birth of a child includes "emotional housework" in addition to the actual "physical housework". The former focuses on the necessary physical work in family life, while the latter is how much a person is willing to put into thinking about the emotional balance between family members, including thinking more closely about how to create a better environment for children to grow up.

And until now, many men still admit "humbly" that housework "belongs to the wife". In this seemingly empowering context, it implicitly represents its own absence and avoidance of responsibility.

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And what women's plight will be directly caused by such responsibility avoidance?

The BBC reported that experts believe that mothers obviously put more effort into the process of housework, and in most families, women are more attentive than men in terms of housework expectations, planning, and research, to some extent, women only need to "do it" or "make decisions" to include men's views.

Therefore, in the process of undertaking housework, a woman not only bears labor services, but also psychological activities and pressures including expectations, planning, and changes.

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"We know that mothers worry about their children even when they are not around." The additional mental stress that comes with 'worry' can cause women to have a low level of anxiety when they need to focus on other things."

The BBC report quoted Leah Ruppanner, associate professor of sociology at the University of Melbourne, as saying: "Mental burden is a clue that the family brings into work and life, which is a low-level anxiety that makes women constantly reflect, review whether they have given enough for the family, worry about whether the parenting style is appropriate, and always try to reduce the future risk of the family." And usually fathers don't need to take on such responsibilities."

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From the data point of view, according to the statistics of the Ministry of Health and Welfare in 2019, married working women spend up to 5 hours a day taking care of their families without pay, which is three times that of men.

The scary thing is that this number is even more than the 3.81 hours counted by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in 2016. It can be seen that although the concept of "male protagonist outside and female protagonist inside" has declined, women's responsibilities for the family have not been reduced, but have moved more towards the road of "superwoman", and are required to become a perfect woman in front of the family, workplace and children.

The ultimate solution: support for women's employment + universal childcare

The purpose of the real realization that a considerable number of women in the workplace face after giving birth is not to deter, but how we see some inertia and outlets in these structural problems, and to break through inertia, in addition to redefining gender roles, it also includes women's liberation of their own roles.

American actress America Ferrera, who plays an office worker mother with an adolescent daughter in the highest-grossing Hollywood movie of 2023 "Barbie", has a line like this:

It's so hard to be a woman, you're so beautiful and so smart, I can't believe you feel like you're not good enough. As women, we seem to be extraordinary, but we are always criticized for doing something wrong... You have to be able to enjoy wealth, but you can't explicitly love money because that's too rude.

You have to be able to be the boss, but you can't be too fierce; You need to be able to lead, but not trample on the ideas of others; You should enjoy the role of motherhood, but not always discuss your children; If you're a working woman, you have to take care of others...

You always have to be good and always grateful, but don't forget, this system is biased, so you need to find a way to understand the laws of society and be grateful all the time, women can't get old, can't be rude, can't show off, can't be selfish, can't fall, can't fail, can't show fear, can't cross the line.

But it's so hard and contradictory that even if you do, no one will give you a medal or thank you, and you'll eventually find out that not only are you doing everything wrong, but everything is your fault.

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Women need to see where they stand in these structural problems, and they do not have to bear anxiety alone without contradiction and self-awareness, but must say goodbye to their "perfect self".

Childbirth is also an important life practice for women and partners, and it must be accompanied by active communication with family members, workplace bosses, and peers. In any case, women can tell themselves that motherhood is an expansive process that will make you stronger; At the same time, this does not mean that you need to take on everything alone, and it is necessary to ask for help, make needs, and face challenges when appropriate.

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Whether in the family, the workplace or society, we need more women who are willing to stand up for rights, advocate for needs, and fight for fairness. Only when the advancement of the individual goes hand in hand with the change of structure, the world will have a strong kinetic energy to move towards the ideal state.

At the same time, individual appeals, collective voices, will likely drive structural adjustments, so we will have a better chance of recourse to larger systems: families, workplaces, businesses, societies, and even nations.

How can European countries ensure women's employment rights and employment rates, starting with maternity leave?

For a long time in the past, women often faced "contradictions and challenges between managing work and managing housework" in their career ascent, and regarded the balance between family and workplace as an obstacle. In this regard, Ilene Lang, executive director of an NGO in New York that supports women in senior management, said that the country needs to undertake and improve in guiding and solving the problem of dual-income families, and the Nordic countries are at the forefront.

Government support for families in most European countries begins with the birth of a baby, and most governments have adopted strong maternity leave systems that allow mothers to leave their jobs weeks and months after the birth of their children without fear of losing their jobs.

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For example, mothers on maternity leave in France and Germany can receive a full salary subsidy; Austria and Canada can receive partial subsidies; At the same time, other European countries offer maternity leave to fathers on maternity leave with full and partial wages, and even allow one of the parents to extend the leave if necessary.

In the future, a sound childcare system is more necessary, and the government needs to ensure that the external support system is of sufficient quality to support working women to practice themselves safely and continuously, and most Nordic countries also emphasize the importance of social support systems.

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The so-called support system, which includes caregivers at home and outside the home, ensures that women have access to help with household matters and benefit from government childcare services and paid parental leave for childcare; In the workplace, high-performing women can also apply for office assistants to optimize daily tasks during childcare.

Under this premise, Sweden, which has ultra-flexible maternity leave, has now become the country with the highest proportion of "working mothers" among the Nordic countries.
About three out of four mothers are working mothers, demonstrating that countries where governments are willing to invest more practical and effective policies on childcare support can effectively increase women's employment rates.

In terms of policy, welfare alone will not work. Welfare is only the first step to achieving the basics, and there are more social initiatives, corporate commitments, and family solidarity that need to keep pace, so that we have the opportunity to see more forces beyond "law" and "welfare".

Otherwise, it is difficult to promote the reform of a whole society by the idling of welfare alone, welfare is at best a guarantee, but the force that urges society to move forward depends more on initiative.

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Therefore, from the three aspects of policy formulation, corporate assistance to family functions, the support to parents should be "highly flexible choices" and "highly flexible mutual aid space", so that two people can communicate, empathize and coordinate with each other at different stages of life and career to reach a consensus on the most suitable life, work and parenting mode.

On the premise that there is no need to give up any personal pursuits, the matter of parenting, in the era when everyone pursues self-practice, should be able to be part of the family and life, rather than making concessions and sacrifices for it. After all, no one's contribution is taken for granted, and no one's career, life and aspirations are less important than anyone.