On Wednesday 14th January 2015, Young Motherhood appeared at the House of Commons thanks to the sponsorship of MPs Kate Green and Teresa Pearce. The main focus of the day was to provide a platform for the voices and concerns of young mothers to be heard in a political arena, and also give MPs a direct opportunity to engage with the project. Along with invites sent out to all current MPs, participants from the project were invited as well as other young mums, professionals and organisations working with young mums and select members of the press.
The day opened with Jendella, the photographer and filmmaker behind the project, explaining why she started the project (full transcript below) and how she was inspired not only by the perseverance of her friends who were young mums in raising their children and attaining their own goals, but also in the realisation that many of them were aware of the stereotypes that surrounded them and felt that they had to make some decisions in light of that. Afterwards Kate Green, Shadow Minister for Disability and Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston, shared about why she supported the project. She spoke about her time at Gingerbread and also mentioned issues of morality and sexuality that are often tied to the choices of young women to start families. Following on, Teresa Pearce, Labour MP for Erith and Thamesmead, spoke very candidly about her own experience of being a young mother, and a single mum of two daughters. It was a brilliant opportunity to hear her story and was encouraging and inspirational for all in the room.
The opening speeches were followed by a screening of an excerpt of the project film, which aimed to give the audience a small insight into some of the initial questions and issues that often crop up when a young woman finds out she’s pregnant: the reaction of friends and family, abortion, the relationship with the baby’s father, and how to “carry on”. Through the honest and insightful interviews from various women of different backgrounds, the audience was given a chance to see some of the different situations that young women found themselves in, and how they processed the initial news with all the nuances of family, community, reputation and the like.
After the film screening there was a talk from Joelle Bradly (you can read it here) and a speech from Naomi Olumegbon that was read in her absence. Both participants of the project talked a bit about their own experiences as young mothers, with Joelle touching on her own research into the lives and effects of teen parents and Naomi talking about how she graduated from university with giving birth to her two daughters along the way. This provided a great opportunity for discussion and a question and answer session, where many topics were discussed including young mothers continuing education, practical support and how to take the ethos of the project further and engage with more people. It was fantastic to have input from young mothers in attendance as well as the professionals who work with them (most of them themselves once young mums). It added a great dimension of first person experience to the discussion.
The presentation part of the day closed with “The Young Motherhood Manifesto”: five of the top concerns of young mums presented ahead of the general election. The list was sourced from discussion at the #YoungMumsMeetUp at the Rich Mix exhibition, as well as further input from participants of the project. Following on from that was an opportunity for general discussion and networking. London Live were also in attendance and filmed the day as well as interviews for a short segment on the day’s activities.
Feedback from attendees was really encouraging with many noting the positive atmosphere that surrounded the discussion that is often rare when it comes to politics and young mothers. More discussions continued about possibilities to continue the work begun, so sign up to the project mailing list to stay in the loop of what’s coming up next.
Special thanks to somewhereto_ for their support with the press activities for the House of Commons event and assistance on the day.
Below: Transcript from Jendella’s opening speech.
Firstly I want to thank Kate and Teresa for their support and sponsorship that has made today’s event possible, and I also want to thank you all for coming.
I began Young Motherhood in September 2013 after having the idea but not doing anything with it for a while. I wanted to do this project because I have quite a few friends who are young mums themselves. In them I see ambition, love and persistence in how they raise their children and chase their own aspirations, and nothing of the benefit scrounger or council-house opportunist that society at large believes young mothers to be. So firstly I wanted to challenge this false narrative, because these ideas are not just intangible sentiment. These ideas create concrete reality through policy suggested and implemented to appease the electorate; these ideas are present in the open hostility that some young mothers experience from health service professionals; and they are present in the judgement and offensive comments made by complete strangers encountered in public. That’s why this false narrative needs to be challenged.
On another level, one of my friends was in an abusive relationship with the father of her child. She’s smart, talented, funny and otherwise very confident, but she felt that she could not leave him because she did not want to be seen as “one of those” young, single mums. Like many, she was acutely aware of the labels and judgement that would come her way and decided that private misery would be easier to bear than public stigma and shame. Thankfully she has since left her abusive partner, but the attitudes of communities who isolate and marginalise young mothers means that situations like hers are a lot more common than is taken granted. So with Young Motherhood I also saw the necessity of a platform where young mums can see an honest reflection of themselves, so that they know that they are not alone, and know that despite whatever practical obstacles they may face, or what they feel in the moment under the judgement and scrutiny of others, that they can do it, they will get through it and success is not some opportunity that they forfeited when they decided to be a mother, but it is well within their grasp.
My hope for this project is that our society is challenged at every level, from the political elite right through to our grassroot communities, to address the stereotypes and ideas we hold onto so firmly. In doing so I believe that we can create a society that is more empathetic and inclusive when it comes to those whose lives look different to our own.