On International Women's Day, why do we ignore mothers?

Last year, like the year before and the year before that, I spent International Women's Day attending events.

I bought my purple ribbon, attended a talk and heard once again about the underrepresentation of women on boards and in executive roles.

And the breakfasts: oh, the breakfasts. So many to choose from, all with interesting speakers and fantastic spreads at fancy hotels.

But this is my first International Women's Day as a mother, and I'm just hoping to be able to fit in a coffee before my baby wakes up.

Like in previous years, I looked for IWD events to attend.

There was the ICCI International Women's Day breakfast, focused on sharing experiences in the corporate world.

There was the luncheon that promised to "feature a number of people with cool careers and super cool outlooks when it comes to the opportunities that our industry presents".

There was the UN event, which said it was turning its "focus to women's economic and political empowerment".

But not one made any mention of welcoming children or making arrangements for child care.

If I wanted to attend a breakfast starting at 7:00am, I'd need child care from 6:00am. That's not easy to come by.

The financial reality of motherhood

Becoming a mother has been an enlightening experience in more ways than I could possibly mention, but one of those I least expected is how it has changed my understanding and practice of feminism.

Where once the corporate gender pay gap and number of women on boards was something that felt relevant to my life, it now feels a million miles away.

I worry less about the 23 cents in the dollar less in my pay packet and more about the fact I earn less than half what I did before I had the responsibility of caring for my daughter.

I have also realised that when we focus our feminist activism on the lives of women working white-collar jobs in cities, even unconsciously in the way we organise, we aren't doing our job properly.

There is obvious economic benefit in raising the next generation of teachers and lawyers and plumbers and nurses, but there's also the social benefit of ensuring all people — including mothers — have the opportunity to make choices about their life.

In order to support the economic, social and political empowerment of women with children, we first need to include them in the conversation, rather than just speaking about them.

I should say upfront that I am incredibly privileged. I have a job that is flexible enough for me to be able to do it from home, I have family close by who offer help, and I have a supportive partner who contributes both financially and by doing unpaid work.

But even with all these advantages, becoming a mother has been financially and socially challenging. How much more so it must be for single mothers or those without family support.

Women do much more unpaid work than men

I once understood the gender pay gap in terms of women being paid less to do the same job, and that female-dominated jobs — such as child care and social work — are paid less.

While that is certainly worthy of our attention, the gender work gap is a far broader problem.

It's not just about comparative pay, it's also about the ways women are limited in the work they can do, and the grossly disproportionate amount of unpaid work undertaken by women.

This has become apparent in my own life.

I now earn less not because my hourly rate has dropped, but because I have fewer hours available to me for working.

I have used up all my paid parental leave, and my baby still isn't sleeping more than two hours at a time and so, consequently, neither am I.

Like most households in Australia where a man and a woman are raising children together, I do a larger proportion of the child care.

Part of that is practical, as I breastfeed my baby, but the financial consequences are substantial.

My situation is not unusual. According to the ABS, in male/female couples where both partners are fully employed, men do an average of 3 hours and 43 minutes of child care per day compared with the 6 hours and 39 minutes women do.

Again, that's on top of working full time. The gap increases when women work part time.

In the 2006 census, in male/female couples, women reported doing an average of 33 hours and 43 minutes of unpaid household work per week, compared to men's 18 hours and 19 minutes.

By contrast, men reported an average of 31 hours and 16 minutes of paid work compared to 14 hours and 42 minutes for women.

Overall, the total number of hours worked are largely comparable, but the division in paid and unpaid work is stark.

Celebrations of women should be more mother-friendly

Until I became a mother, I hadn't realised how much these trends would impact on my ability to participate in public conversations about how we can advance the causes of women.

Now, attending events, going to meetings and volunteering are far more difficult. As a result, the movement is deprived of the voices of women like me and the contributions they could make.

But it also doesn't always take their concerns into account, which can affect what campaign issues are pursued.

Our celebrations of women, such as International Women's Day, need to be more mother-friendly so they can be more mother-focused.

This can be as simple as hosting events at child-friendly venues or organising for child care to be available.

But it's also about focusing on women's unpaid work as well as their paid work.

Men have a role to play here too, in taking on a larger proportion of unpaid work. We should be encouraging them to do so, and encouraging employers to offer policies that allow men to play a more active role at home.

I eventually found an International Women's Day event at our local suburban library, where I can take my daughter along.

It might not be a swanky breakfast, I might not be able to hear from fascinating speakers and develop new professional relationships, but it's something.

This International Women's Day, we're asked to "be bold for change". Let's hope one of those changes is a feminism more inclusive of women raising children.

Erin is a writer and journalist from Sydney, Australia. She usually writes about gender, sport and parenting and occasionally all three at the same time.