The Common Good

Mother's Week: Undervaluing Women

There is a beautiful story that some Christians have learned to tell about motherhood. This story is one of strength, faith, sacrifice, loss, and unconditional love.

Our Biblical mothers, from Eve to Mary and everyone in between (Sarah, Leah, Rachel, Jochebed (the mother of Moses), Bathsheba, Hannah, and Elizabeth to name a few) provide examples of women who defied societal constraints to protect their children; who gave them up so that their children might prosper; who supported, loved and nurtured their sons absolutely, without the expectation that that same love would be returned to them.

In Mary’s story we are called to appreciate the mother who shepherded truth and salvation into the world, whose faith made our faith possible today. The Christian story of motherhood is one I am proud to tell and one I hope to live into one day. 

On Mother’s Day, we have the opportunity to reflect on the gifts of motherhood, to lift up the mother’s among us and recognize their strengths, sacrifices, and wisdom--what a beautiful idea. But the problem, in our society, is that one day of cards and flowers just doesn’t cut it. For most of the other 364 days of the year, the lives of women and mothers are undervalued. 

Americans are expected to spend $18.6 billion on Mother’s Day gifts this year while 31.6 percent of single-mother households in the United States lived in poverty in 2010.  What’s wrong with this picture?

According to the National Organization for Women (NOW), there are 80.5 million mothers in the United States, but statistics show that our country does a poor job of supporting mothers in need.  

Of the four million women giving birth each year, nearly half a million of these mothers are under 19 years old. Statistics compiled by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy show that 25 percent of teen mothers will go on welfare within the first three years after childbirth. Additionally, only 38 percent of women who give birth before age 18 receive high school diplomas. What changes can we make in our school systems to support young mothers in their pursuit of education?  What opportunities could we offer young mothers to break the cycle of poverty?

Even though 55 percent of mothers are in the labor force, employers are not required to pay women on maternity leave, a reality that is almost unprecedented in the rest of the world. What message are we sending about the value of motherhood when new mothers are expected to survive without income?

According to the Women in Prison’s Project, nearly 62 percent of women in state prisons are parents of children under 18. An estimated 25 percent of incarcerated women are pregnant at the time of their arrest or have given birth at some point during the year prior to prison. Yet, there are few prisons with adequate nursery facilities to help mothers and babies stay together, and few resources to help families reunite after incarceration. How can we help rehabilitate women in the justice system so that families can stay together?

There are 10 million single mothers living with children and over 30 percent of these households are poor; additionally, the US Census Bureau, reports that 5.6 million custodial mothers were owed child support in 2007, a number which is likely to be higher today considering the 2008 economic crash.  How can we hold fathers more accountable to their children?

During tough economic times, funding for schools and afterschool programs much needed by working parents are continuously at risk of being cut.  Proposed budget cuts in New York City could cut 47,000 children out of afterschool services.  When our society values children, it values mothers. How can we ensure that our children will have access to adequate education, arts, and outdoor activities?

As we celebrate our mothers this week let us continue to ask questions and resolve to fight for the rights and dignity of mothers everywhere. Let us honor our Biblical mothers by honoring the mothers among us, not just through material gifts on Mother’s Day, but through programs and policies that will improve overall quality of life for women and families. 

 

Anne Marie Roderick is an editorial assistant for Sojourners.

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