"GIVE a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Give a woman microcredit and she, her husband, her children and her extended family will eat for a lifetime." - BONO
I've always said if you put a hard-pressed mother into the chair of the Minister for Finance, you'd see some serious recession-busting initiatives that weren't all about cutting welfare, health and education. You'd see some sense. I see firsthand just what some women are doing to pull their families through these hard times.
One friend, who had gone through the mill before the economic crash, ended up in the mincer when her brother, who she was sharing a house with, lost his job. She and her child had been living with him in a flat which was tied to his employment. Her brother is moving in with his girlfriend, but she has nowhere to go.
Her business folded in 2007 and she has spent the past few years clearing the bad debts her partner in both life and work left her high and dry with. It hadn't hit her until he was made redundant that her brother was also putting his personal life on hold while she got back on her feet.
“He would have moved on ages ago and lived with his girlfriend. I did ask him about that, but he always said they were fine as they were. She's a brilliant woman. But I don't want to be on her sofa, with my child in her box room, putting a strain on their first few months of living together.”
My friend was trying to build up her business again, working freelance in her brother's living room while he was at work and her child was at school. She has put all that build-up on hold, to get a job. “I had to take the first thing I could get. I never thought after 12 years working I would be in this situation — saving for a rental deposit.”
Rather than see her life as ruined she feels very strong about it all: “It's not easy but once I've got my child and my other family, in my brother and his girlfriend, I'll get through anything. I have more confidence now than I did when I was successful at my business. My partner undermined my decisions a lot and this was his way of controlling me.
“I've learned I can survive on very little, and make a phone call to drum up work when my purse is empty and I've nothing left but my drive and ideas. I'll make it on my own and I won't have anyone standing over me or taking credit that I earned. But I need to be able to get some credit first!” She has bad debts and bad memories to work off.
Another close friend whose husband lost his job found herself being the sole breadwinner. She sees him doing the things she wanted to do with her children: “I wanted to be the one at the school gate. I was reared by a business woman and it wasn't easy coming second to her evening meetings. One au pair after another brought me up. So I was determined to stay at home.
“But what I found, in switching roles with my husband, is that I am good at business and, while it wasn't my choice to be out here, it wasn't his to be at home. He often phones me in real distress. At least Iget to have a lunch hour, sometimes! We know one day he'll go back to work. But there's no guarantee of when that day will be. And I'll keep working, in some way, around the children.”
All over Ireland people are making new choices in new circumstances. I don't hear half the recession whingeing I heard this time last year. I hear families getting on with it.
One woman I know, who is far from a domestic goddess, put an advert for an ironing service in a local shop. The last word goes to her: “I never knew there was so much need, or use, for a hot metal triangle. But it's helping me to survive, so I'm grateful to it, and willing to go on using it for as long as it takes.”