Jamila Rizvi on a love of politics and the courage of working mums

Jamila Rizvi lives in Melbourne with her husband Jeremy and 2 year old son Rafi. She’s not only a very talented journalist, with former roles as Chief in Editor at Mamamia and a regular columnist for news.com.au, she’s also an author and leading voice for many young women pushing for a new modern brand of feminism.

Starting her working life in politics at the age of 25, Jamila was one of the youngest people to work as a Chief of Staff to a Federal Minister during the Rudd and Gillard government. She’d love to get back into politics one day and describes the Minister for Women as ‘the best job in the world’.

She speaks honestly about being courageous as working mums, the impossibility of trying to ‘have it all at once’ and why she’s never had more fun and laughter in her life than as a parent.

You’ve spoken a lot about being courageous. How can women be more courageous when it comes to being a working mum?

The norm in Australia is now a family with two parents who work, with kids. This is the first generation for which it’s the norm. No one’s done it before, there’s no blueprint of how to do it, so I think ‘the doing’ is courageous in itself.

When you’re in the trenches of rice bubbles and pickups and drop offs and tantrums and whatever, you don’t feel particularly courageous. I think it takes courage to be the first generation who are truly living it.

So, do you think women can ‘have it all’?

Of course, you can’t have it all. I think of how many careers I’d love to have, the relationships with different people, the friendships. Well they don’t fit in a lifetime. To me, it’s about you, your circumstances and your priorities. Looking for a “fit” for your work, relationships, kids or whatever is the “fit” that works for you.

So, as working mums, what are the conversations you think we should be having more of?

I think historically we’ve had a problem with women being allowed to be honest about how hard raising children is and I think that’s become an issue. As women, we were always expected to smile and be nice about it and that if you admitted that it was hard, you were saying something negative about your children, which, of course, it’s not. You can love your child 100% and still find it hard.

I think that we then became so worried that we focused on how to rectify that problem and we’ve now gone too far the other way. It’s become a badge of honour to talk about how shit it is and how tough it is and how awful it is. And while I know it can be complex and difficult and hard, I think sometimes we forget to celebrate the fun.

Before I had my little boy, no one talked to me about the overwhelming love I would feel and everyone talked to me about how hard it would be and how tired I would be. No one told me how much fun it would be.

No one? What a horrible thing! Because if I had to describe parenting in a single word, I would say it was fun. I’m having a ball. Yes, there are hard bits. Yes, there are tired bits. Yes, there are shitty bits. Yes, there are days when I’m like “gosh it would be so much easier if you weren’t around” but still, there is more fun that comes from that little person in my life. More fun than we have ever had before.

What hopes do you have for Rafi and the world he will live in?

Before I had children, I think I would have talked about what I wanted them to be, and now I think almost primarily about what I want him to feel. I want him to be healthy, that’s the number one. The single most important thing.

The second thing is that I want him to have a life that is happy, no matter what it turns out to be. I would like him to grow up in a world that allows boys and girls to be who they want to be, regardless of gender stereotypes. So, as a little boy, I want him to grow up as someone who is respectful of women. I want him to grow up as someone who doesn’t think feelings are a bad thing. I want him to grow up having idols of both genders without false constraints of “masculinity”. If someone could sort that for me, that’d be fab!

We talk a lot about the importance of the sisterhood. How important is this to you?

I am someone who deeply enjoys the conversation and camaraderie of other women. I always have. I love working in teams of women. I love the energy in a room with a big group of women.  I don’t think I would have made it through the roughest times in my life without my mates. I think particularly in times of emotional crisis, women have a willingness to step up that is quite unique.

I think that the idea of women always being competitive with each other is rooted in sexism – that there’s only a finite amount of success in this world for women. Instead, why don’t we grow the number of spots so she doesn’t have to be my competitor? So that we can both be at the top?

We know one of your first loves is politics. So, if you were Minister for Women, what would you do first?

Oh yes please, best job in the world! I’d love to be in politics again. I think the first thing I would do would be to reconsider the way we have put together paid parental leave. I think the government that brought it in had the best of intentions, but the reality is that in Australia, less than 3% of men are actually taking it up. So, while we’re calling it parental leave, it’s clearly not working that way. I think the best thing you can do for women is to make men equal partners in parenting.

Written by the Circle In team.

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