Last week, in “Women Should Be Mommies and Mommies Never Win,” I wrote about our society’s obsession with women’s reproduction. I reckoned that all this celebration of baby bumps did not reflect America’s true feelings about women and children:
It would almost make you think that our society’s genuflecting to motherhood is more surface than substance. Huh. Matter of fact, our short parental leave standards, absence of affordable childcare, attacks on reproductive healthcare for women, low-paid childcare providers, dwindling social services and cuts to education reveal a societal hypocrisy. We love a baby bump and a glowing celebrity mommy, but when that bump becomes a baby, that little sucker and its mama better be able to fend for themselves.
Now, I hate to say “I told you so…”
Last week, Save the Children released its annual State of the World’s Mothers Report. The United States failed to break the top 10 list of the best places to be a mother, which included the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Australia, Belgium, Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, Iceland and Norway in the top spot. The United States sits at number 25, nestled between the Czech Republic and Belarus, on a list of roughly 173 countries.
The Mother’s Index incorporates both the Women’s and Children’s indexes.The Women’s Index is compiled, based on factors such as risk of maternal death, percentage of women using modern contraception, female life expectancy, expected number of years of formal female schooling, maternity leave benefits, ratio of expected male-to-female earned income, and participation of women in national government. The Children’s Index reviews child mortality and pre-primary and secondary school enrollment. Based on the child-related factors alone, the United States falls to 31.
America cannot claim, as Iceland can, that nearly every girl and boy in the country enjoys good health and access to good education. Nor can our 12-week (if you’re lucky) parental leave compare with Albania’s 365-day leave. Only 17 percent of governmental seats are held by women here and only 69 percent of children will get pre-primary school enrollment. In the industrialized world, the United States has the least favorable environment for mothers who want to breastfeed.
Let’s be real, American children are far better off than, say, children in Somalia, who face the greatest threat of death in the world. Mothers and children in many countries are struggling in ways that seem unthinkable in the United States. For instance, “malnutrition is an underlying cause of death for 2.6 million children each year,
and it leaves millions more with lifelong physical and mental impairments.
Worldwide, more than 170 million children do not have the opportunity to
reach their full potential because of poor nutrition in the earliest months of life.” There is a world of difference between this country and Niger, which ranks the worst country to be a mother–where an average girls gets four years of education and dies at 56.
But for a country that purports to be number one in all things, to settle for number 25 when it comes to the health and well-being of mothers and children is unfortunate. When placed against posturing about the sanctity of families and the glories of childbearing, it is downright offensive.
Organizations working to raise the quality of living worldwide have long said that when women do better, families do better–communities do better. And so, when we look at the development of the Global South, we look to the welfare of women and their children. But it would be arrogant and ultimately damaging to believe that while countries beyond the West need help, here in the U.S. of A., we have it all figured out. This country has a ways to go before we’re number one as far as women and children are concerned.