SSHRC funding supports three York-led projects on motherhood research

Three separate grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) have been awarded to York University Professor Andrea O’Reilly and will support her research projects in the field of motherhood.

O’Reilly is an expert in motherhood research, founder and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative, publisher of Demeter Press, author of 20-plus books, and professor in York’s School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS).

Andrea O'Reilly
Andrea O’Reilly

“The aim and purpose of my research over the last three decades is to put mothers and mothering at the centre of academic research and public policy. To achieve this, I believe, we need a feminism for mothers, what I have termed matricentric feminism – a feminism that makes motherhood the business of feminism by positioning mothers’ needs and concerns as the starting point for a theory and politics on and for women’s empowerment,” says O’Reilly. “Indeed, a mother-centred feminism is needed because mothers – arguably more so than women in general – remain disempowered despite 40-plus years of feminism. With these three SSHRC-funded research projects, I hope to give voice to mothers whose identities and experiences have been particularly marginalized in scholarship and policy, older young mothers in Canada and mothers deleteriously impacted by the pandemic.”

The awards are:

SSHRC Partnership Engagement Grant (January 2021) for “Mothers and COVID-19; The impact of the pandemic on mothers and mothering in Canada and Australia”

This one-year, $24,927 grant will support a research project that examines the impact of COVID-19 and its aftermath on mothers and motherwork, with the aim of developing social research and public policy to inform, support, and empower mothers through and after the pandemic. Mothers do the bulk of domestic labour, childcare and eldercare, and with social isolation, the burden of care work has increased exponentially in both time and concern as mothers are running households with little or no support and under close to impossible conditions. However, there has been little media coverage or social research on how families are managing under COVID-19.

This project will examine Canadian and Australian mothers’ unpaid work in the home (e.g. homeschooling, house cleaning, childcare and eldercare) and wage labour during a pandemic, and will examine the commonalities and differences between the countries. It involves 30 mothers (15 from Canada and 15 from Australia) who will be interviewed via Zoom from all regions of each country and with diverse backgrounds in terms of race, class, sexuality and ability.

The project will examine these challenges across Canada and Australia to consider and compare the impact of COVID-19 on mothers in different regions to understand the nuanced complexity of the pandemic and to develop appropriate resources and policies for each national context.

This Partnership Engagement Grant is the first to provide a comparative study of the impact of COVID-19 on mothers in Canada and Australia.

SSHRC Insight Grant (April 2021) for “Older young mothers: An overlooked cohort in research and social policy”

This is a three-year grant of $71,411 to support a project that examines the challenges facing “older young mothers” (aged between 18 and 24), such as access to post-secondary education, housing, employment, childcare, community support and advocacy, and the deleterious societal views and cultural representations of young motherhood. Current research on young motherhood largely focuses on younger teens; this study looks at the specific needs of young mothers at the adult end of the spectrum.

The project will contribute to current research on older young motherhood in three significant ways. First, with particular attention to how the new social construct of older young motherhood informs and frames their experiences of mothering, the project will assess current policies to develop ones that better address the challenges these mothers face. Second, by exploring how this cohort’s experience with motherhood is shaped by race, class, ethnicity and geographic location, the study will contribute to our understanding of intersectionality. And third, the project will explore how older young mothers resist normative discourses that define and position them as unfit mothers to effect cultural change.

The project will assess how discourses and policies impact this new cohort of young mothers across cultural differences and how they may be resisted and reformed. The findings will be widely disseminated to community agencies, government, and the general public through research reports, policy briefs, media interviews and on social media.

SSHRC Connection Grant (July 2021) for the conference “Mothers, Families, and COVID-19: Building Back Better”

This one-year, $24,250 grant supports the first international conference on the impact of COVID-19 on mothers and families. Current research shows that sustainable and holistic COVID-19 recovery will require more than a vaccine. In many ways, the pandemic has acted as a beacon, further exposing long-standing cracks in systems of caregiving, women’s rights and gender equality.

The proposed conference, “Mothers, Families, and COVID-19: Building Back Better,” co-hosted by the Mothers Matter Centre (MMC) and York University, examines the impact of the pandemic on mothers’ care work and wage labour in the context of employment, schooling, communities, families, and the relationships of parents and children. With a global perspective, the conference will explore the increasing complexity and demands of childcare, domestic labour, eldercare and home schooling under the pandemic protocols; the intricacies and difficulties of performing wage labour at home; the impact of the pandemic on mothers’ employment; and the strategies mothers have used to manage the competing demands of care work and wage labour during the pandemic.

This conference, which has 87 confirmed speakers from 12 countries, will explore the impact of COVID-19 on mothers’ wage work and care labour, with a focus on what “building back better” tangibly looks like for the mothers most affected. It will allow for a timely examination of, and response to, the impact of COVID-19 on mothers and families as countries transition to a post-pandemic world.

The knowledge mobilized by and through the conference will be widely disseminated as a report to diverse social agencies and will be preserved through the recording of the conference, which will be stored and made available through the MMC website. Moreover, articles developed from the conference will be published in a special double issue of The Journal of the Motherhood Initiative in 2022 and will be made available in open access format.

“I am deeply honoured and delighted to receive these grants that I hope will create new and innovative research and policy to empower these mothers and advance matricentric feminism,” says O’Reilly.