Where Have All The Mothers Gone?

By Victoria Flamant
posted on May 28, 2013 in Politics and Society

Another Mother’s Day has come and gone here in the United States. A day in which we celebrate and honor our mothers for all they have done for us. While we are happily savoring brunch and giving gifts to our loved ones, an unreasonable number of young women and girls around the world are dying needlessly from childbirth or pregnancy-related complications. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that “every minute at least one woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth” – which equates to more than half a million women dying every year from a cause, that by all means, should be preventable. The WHO estimates that an additional 10 million women suffer from injuries, infections, or disease-associated conditions while giving birth in poor conditions or prematurely.

Reducing the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters by 2015 is the fifth Millennium Development Goal (MDG) set forth by the United Nations in 2000. Some outstanding progress has been made in drastically reducing deaths from childbirth in countries such as Eritrea “which once had the highest maternal mortality rates in the world (about 1,400 deaths per 100,000 births).” The Eritrean government, in partnership with the United Nations, has executed educational campaigns to increase awareness of maternal issues in the country and has improved the skills of birthing attendants in rural areas. However, this drastic reduction in maternal mortality is not the case for most countries. Eritrea is one of only four African countries on track to achieve MDG 5 by 2015. Overall much work remains to be done and with less than 1000 days to the MDG target date, the clock is ticking.

The world has already met other MDGs, such as halving the number of people without access to improved sources of water. This raises the question of why developed and developing countries continue to lag so far behind on the fifth MDG.

The Every Mother Counts initiative points to five key barriers that are impeding the systematic reduction of maternal mortality and disability. These barriers include:

1.     Lack of emergency services

2.     Lack of access to quality care

3.     Poor postpartum care

4.     Weak systems and policies

5.     Lack of funding for family planning

Underlying these obstacles is the fact that women continue to be treated as second-class citizens around the world, especially those who come from low socio-economic backgrounds. The recently released “Girl Rising” movie brings to life the horrific injustices that poor young women are facing in countries such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Nepal, where a daughter is merely a commodity to be sold to settle a debt or get rid of because she is too costly to feed, let alone educate.   

In order to reduce maternal mortality and disability, we must address the five key barriers listed above. We must also place an emphasis on the importance of ensuring that women worldwide are viewed and treated as first-class citizens. Achieving gender equality and reducing maternal health is a human rights issue and it is also smart economics. As Bill Gates said when asked in Saudi Arabia if the country could realistically be one of the top ten countries in the world in technology by 2010, “Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you’re not going to get too close to the top ten.”