The life of a student-mom during the pandemic
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
Adapting to the lockdown stress in these unpredictability times
Life as we know it has changed forever since Covid-19 spread around the globe. For many students, trying to concentrate on university courses while all hell breaks loose in the news has been a true test of limits. For Selene Rosselli who is currently completing the 2nd year of her MA in Human Rights and Multi-level Governance, that test became even tougher when she and her boyfriend found out they were going to have a baby. The couple got the good news on April 6th during the peak of the lockdown and hoped that the circumstances would change before their baby was born. That optimism helped Selene power through the isolation and focus on planning for the future of her family, and her university career. “We both agreed on the name from the very beginning,” she giggled when I asked about the difficulty of coming to a consensus. “Actually, no one in our families is named Ludovico, but we liked it.” They have had to share this experience with their friends and family from a distance as strict safety measures have limited contact.
None of us envisioned that society would change so drastically this year. The new ways in which we must interact have forced us to re-valuate our priorities. Selene has managed to find a balance by concentrating on the areas of her life that she can control. The lockdown provided the opportunity to study distance-ed; something that would have been extremely tiring if she had had to attend lectures in person. She also secured an internship on the project management team of CUAMM Padova where she gained some insight into the operations of an NGO – an experience that is vastly different from her previous positions in legal firms.
Originally from Florence, Italy, Selene moved to Paris at nineteen years old after graduating from high school. She craved a new experience that would introduce her to perspectives different from her Italian upbringing. She spent the next five years of her life exploring French culture before returning to Italy with a BA in Law from the “Université Paris VIII” he idea of pursuing a career in corporate and civil law seemed inadequate for someone who harbours a passion for human rights and justice. Selene was clear on the type of law she wanted to practice, and any career path void of advocating for the common good of society was not going to cut it.
The current negative trajectory of universal human rights accessibility is upsetting for someone like Selene. In Italy where she currently lives, there are minimal government supports for mothers, and pregnant women, while parenting students are forgotten altogether. “The university blocks tuition fees during the birth year, however, no additional support is available. The biggest obstacles I’ve found while preparing for motherhood relate to juggling work, studying and childcare,” she recounts. Selene highlights the influence that the Italian childcare system has on the widening gender gap. In fact, researchers from the Università degli Studi di Torino published a paper in 2015 examining these effects. They found that Italian societal structures rely heavily on the persistence of traditional gender roles which place the burden of housework and childrearing on women, while men have more flexibility to develop their professional careers. Legislative changes made in 2000, enabled The Italian National Social Security Institute (INPS) to provide for up to twenty weeks of compulsory maternity leave, and 1 day of compulsory paternity leave - with 80% of earnings - for parents with new-borns. Benefits for self-employed, seasonal workers and unemployed parents, who are often youth at the beginning of their careers; provide a lowly 30% of earnings over six months for each parent. Legislation has changed since the publication of this paper to extend compulsory paternity leave to 7 days, however; these regulations still perpetuate unbalanced gender roles. Secondly, “childcare services for children under three years of age (‘asili nido’, nursery school) are relatively few,” the paper states. For instance, state coverage for this infant group in Turin met only 50% of parental demand for services between 2011-2012. The situation in the private sector is even less supportive with very few work environments making provisions for workplace nurseries or modified work hours to accommodate the needs of working parents.
These sluggish movements towards tightening the gender gap are misaligned particularly with Article 5(b) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Article 18 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to which Italy is a signatory. As signatories to these conventions, States Parties agree to take all appropriate measures “to ensure that family education includes a proper understanding of maternity as a social function and the recognition of the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children…” (CEDAW) as well as, rendering “appropriate assistance” in the “performance of child-rearing responsibilities” including appropriate measures to ensure that children of working parents have the right to benefit from child-care services (CRC). For new parents like Selene and her partner, the full implementation of these rights would help them provide a more nurturing environment in which mother and father both have equal opportunities to bond with their child. Selene worries that children growing up in this era are still being exposed to imbalanced gender dynamics which may influence their perceptions of normative gender roles and stereotypes.
Before concluding the interview, I asked Selene to describe her general feeling about the future of the world she is going be raising her child in. In her opinion, the progress societies and governments in the EU have made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) before the 2030 deadline are encouraging. However, there remains an overwhelming sense of regression when it comes to democracy and women’s rights especially considering contemporary issues in the United States and Europe. “What I want to definitely fight for is the achievement of gender equality, empowerment of women and ending discrimination because these are the worst viruses for a society,” she reaffirms. She intends to lead by example by exercising her right to vote against discriminatory legislation and, engaging her individual and communal networks in discussions about universal human rights. She hopes that we can all examine our personal involvements in perpetuating inequalities, and by doing so we can begin to dismantle the imbalanced systems we have come to accept as social norms. Her advice as a human rights student, a woman and a mother-to-be is to always ensure that your voice is heard. Become involved in social movements instead of constantly complaining about the situation. “We are the future of this world, so be sure to do something to change it.”
Update: Congratulations to Selene and her partner who welcomed their healthy baby to the world on December 2oth 2020.
Written and edited by Christine Nanteza
Per leggere in italiano, fai clic con il pulsante destro del mouse in un punto qualsiasi di questa schermata e seleziona "Traduci in italiano".
Selene Rosselli is a human rights graduate student, women’s rights advocate and mother-to-be. Follow Selene's story on instagram @not.a.regular.mum_ and facebook @selene rosselli
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