Today (May 13), at least 97 countries around the globe celebrate Mothers’ Day. Despite the fact that there is no international Mother’s Day, the majority of countries celebrate it on the second Sunday of May. The tradition behind Mother’s Day derives from the United States. American social activist Anna Marie Jarvis spent a significant period of her life advocating for an official Mother’s Day in the US, having celebrated the first ever Mother’s Dayin 1908, three years after her own mother’s death. While the idea behind the day was a genuine appreciation of mothers and motherhood, the day has turned into a money making business that is often far removed from what Anna Marie Jarvis had in mind.
I would like to use this Mother’s Day not only to appreciate mothers all over the world but also to raise several issues that are sometimes overshadowed during a day of celebrations often centred around the giving of flowers, chocolates, and cards.
In many parts of the world, working mothers earn less than women without children, even if they are similarly qualified. Compounding this is the fact that women generally earn less than men, have to accept periods of unpaid maternity leave and have to accept unpaid time off work. Working mothers are often ostracised or stereotyped as not being devoted enough to their jobs. They face the impossible choice between their duties as a mother and their duties to their employer. This is just the tip of an iceberg and on top of other challenges faced by women in general.
This is the reality in most parts of the western world, yet the reality faced by mothers in many other parts of the world is even worse. Mothers are often tasked with providing for themselves and their children, whether this be the provision of food and shelter, or safety from violence and disease. Women and children continue to suffer as the main victims of human-made disasters but also of various preventable diseases, like malaria.
Indeed, pregnant women and children stand the highest risk of contracting malaria and dying from the disease. Malaria is a disease that can be controlled and combated with comprehensive education and effective prevention. Prevention techniques includes complex antimalarial medication but also, relatively simple steps such as anti-mosquitos nets. This is why the United Nations Foundation’s ‘Nothing But Nets’ campaign, focuses on ensuring that women and children in malaria affected regions are provided with beds with nets to protect them from the risk of contracting malaria. These long-lasting, insecticidal bed nets are ‘a simple, cost-effective solution to protect families from malaria while they sleep.’
Yet, there are other grave dangers endured by mothers aside from disease or famine. According to UNICEF, between 1990 and 2015, the global maternal mortality ratio declined by 44% – from 385 deaths to 216 deaths per 100,000 live births. Despite this great progress, some regions continue to underperform in combating this issue. Sub-Saharan Africa is such an area. In the region, only half of live births are carried out in presence of medical expertise. As almost all maternal deaths can be prevented, progress should be faster than currently reported. According to the World Health Organisation, ‘most obstetric complications could be prevented or managed if women had access to a skilled birth attendant – doctor, nurse, midwife – during childbirth.’ This means that if medical assistance during birth was guaranteed in sub-Saharan countries, the maternal mortality rates would improve significantly.
It should not be forgotten that preventable maternal mortality, and other health related issues, invokes questions of fundamental human rights, especially the right to health. The right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is guaranteed in several international and regional human rights treaties, including Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection;
Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides that ’the States Parties … recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.’ This includes ‘prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases.’
In pursuance of the above mentioned duties, women must be provided with adequate health care during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period. Pregnant women and mothers must be provided with information about how to preventdiseases like malaria. They should be provided with the means to prevent this, for example, throughgh the long-lasting, insecticidal bed nets or anti-malaria tablets.
On this Mother’s Day, let’s appreciate mothers and celebrate motherhood. However, let’s remember that flowers and chocolates can only to so much to honour our mothers. More needs to be done to ensure that working mothers have better rights. More needs to be done to ensure that women are not discriminated against or sexually harassed. More needs to be done to ensure that women and children are not used as a weapon of war. More needs to be done to ensure that women do not die from preventable conditions or diseases.
For our part, we are giving out period packs to all our local homeless women, in Honor of our Mothers. Want to help? Donate here : Homeless Period Packs