My first book, The Feminine Art, was published in the summer of 2004, and that autumn I attended the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. I stayed with my cousin, his wife and their baby girl. Every morning, I took a train to Frankfurt, stayed until late evening, and then took the train back. By that time, I had visited many countries such as Greece, Italy, France, Portugal, Morocco, and Tunisia. But Germany was my last trip to Europe. Shortly afterward, I got married, had children and committed myself to my home, family, writing, and in the last four years, in taking care of my mother.
My trips abroad, which extended for over 10 years, were an incredibly educational experience, especially because I didn’t live like a tourist. I stayed with relatives, sometimes months at a time, and learned quite a bit. One main difference between us and them was the healthcare system. Theirs was universal. In Iraq, I grew up under that system so it felt more natural to me since, whatever our other worries were, healthcare was not one of them. That was also the case in most of the countries I visited, including Germany, where my cousin’s baby received a monthly stipend simply for being born in Germany. Even though her parents were not German citizens, the baby was entitled to these stipends until age 18 and the family didn’t need to be poor to receive them. You simply had to be born in Germany.
After I returned to the United States, I maintained contact with my cousin. When his wife had a second child, she told me how a woman came to help her with household chores two to three times a week. I asked if she had to pay for that service. She said, no, that it was covered under the maternity costs. This truly surprised me. I had had my first baby by then and found little help available. The idea of having a woman assist me twice, even once, a week seemed dreamy.
I don’t know how the healthcare in Germany has changed in the last decade, but I recently found a paper I’d written in college that compared our healthcare system to that of Europe. I’d written it in the 1990s. It seems this subject has always intrigued. I wondered, why couldn’t we adopt an idea that already works elsewhere? Every day, we adopt new ways of manufacturing cars, designing clothes, consuming food, exercising, treating and interacting with nature, accumulating wealth and prosperity, and having healthier relationships. Why can’t we do the same with healthcare?
Over the years, Americans have paid more attention to healthcare and enormous efforts have been made to create plans that benefit the majority of the population. On my show recently, I had two guests who shared their own efforts to make life a little easier for mothers and caregivers. Two campaigns that they are organizing under their new gender equity program are increasing the investment in subsidized child care in Michigan state budget and advocating for a study bill on aging and long term care.
Cherie Happy is a community organizer on Michigan United’s campaign for Universal Family Care. A life-long Michigan resident, Cherie is affected both by family members suffering with disabilities and she is also caring for an elderly parent suffering with Alzheimers disease. Cherie has just begun her efforts toward making cultural and legislative changes to provide care for those in need.
Rebecca Gray is a community organizer on Michigan United’s campaign for Universal Family Care. A life-long Michigan resident, Rebecca connects with people affected by childcare and long-term care to work towards cultural and legislative changes. She is personally struggling with childcare for her 6 month old daughter.
Myself a mother and caregiver, I’m part of a growing number of women who have come to be known as the “Sandwich Generation.” But this isn’t something new. Historically women have been handed the nurturing roles of mothers and caregivers. These are tough but very important jobs. Taking care of our children and elderly are the basis of a civilized society. There’s a famous Arabic proverb that says, “Home is a school.” This is where the possibilities begin to raise healthy, stable children who will grow up to create rather than destroy, who will take care of each other, rather than destroy each other. I’m so grateful for women like Cheri and Rebecca who are helping us raise healthy communities.
To learn more about Michigan United’s campaign for Universal Family Care, visit http://www.miunited.org/our-campaigns/gender-equity-womens-leadership-and-the-caring-economy/