We Need to Celebrate Migrant Mothers
By Maya Acharya
Ever perused through a Hallmark card rack and wondered why there are almost no greeting cards targeted at women between the ages of 40 and 60? It’s a simple question, but one that highlights how societies struggle to address and acknowledge experiences at the intersection of aging, motherhood and gender.
Fascinated by this glaring gap, interaction designer Radhika Agarwal started a project to envision objects that celebrate this demographic, especially migrant women, in a way that didn’t reinforce gendered stereotypes and heteronormative ideals.
“I wanted to figure out what the unique experiences are for these women and how we might be able to represent them. This was reinforced by industry trends where content produced for women between these ages is scarce and very family centric,” Radhika explains.
“In addition to outside sources like films that celebrate older women, the inspiration for the project came about from my personal experiences, watching my own mother struggle with the challenges of being an aging woman in a foreign society and for many years not knowing how to engage with her complex experiences.”
Radhika started by doing in-depth research, followed by a few prototyping sessions and concept explorations. She then ran a series of generative exercises and discussions with women between 40 and 60.
“Given that these experiences can be hard to access and understand, I knew I wanted a large part of my project to articulate the insights I gained from working with this group in a highly visual, digestible and nuanced way.”
The ideas that came out of these sessions turned into lighthearted objects — artefacts of a fictional mother’s movement, complete with things such as ‘wisness cards’, to impart the wisdom gained through raising children, a ‘second graduation greeting card’, acknowledging the iterative nature of accomplishments, and a megaphone for the voicing of unapologetic opinions.
“The tone of this project was intentionally playful, countering common representations of older people as static or overly serious. Each everyday object has been redesigned to represent a nuanced change in our thinking that needs to occur for us to celebrate and include our mothers,” she says.
The ‘everydayness’ of these objects was an important part of the project for Radhika.
“From living in very different societies, I have noticed that often the largest barriers to gender equality take place in the most mundane spaces. Creating projects that are radically mundane is a key element of the work I want to introduce.”
In the future, Radhika would like to continue her work of identifying tensions in seemingly monotonous spaces and visualising them through design.
While creating her project in Copenhagen, Radhika also realised that working with issues that are more emotional or subtle in nature — like the invisibility of older migrant mothers — often takes far more convincing than when there is a concrete and accepted problem to address.
“One of the most important things I learned from this process is that communication is everything. If I want to work in spaces that people don't see as problems, I not only have to create the output but also develop the framework for people to understand the work I am presenting.”
Radhika Agarwal is an interaction designer who grew up globally in cities like Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong and London. She has diverse experiences in technology, healthcare and emerging markets. Her core interests are in design research, strategy and storytelling, utilsing visual and physical mediums for expression. Click here to see her portfolio.