Motherhood discrimination

By  Nicole Lau, Youth Speak News
  • July 24, 2008

I was reflecting upon the societal value of motherhood at the United Nations during the Convention for Elimination against Discrimination of Women, held in New York in July.

The word “motherhood” was rarely brought up during the committee's examination of each country. This was surprising to me because facilitating the balance between motherhood and working life is one of the central struggles for women today. It’s an issue that every young woman must face.

The issues discussed at the convention were vital to women’s needs: elimination of violence against women, feminization of poverty and empowerment of women through education. I am all for women’s rights to food and shelter, education and safety — tools which build a foundation for their future and enable women to reach their full potential. Education was valued for its capacity to enable women to work in the public sphere, with a salary and benefits. However, I was disturbed by the way it was framed  in relation to the rare times motherhood was actually mentioned.

According to committee members at the conference, women often become mothers because of a lack of education and culture. We often see equality of the sexes as the ability to work in the public workspace, which is fine for those who desire it, but what happens to those who choose to stay at home — educated at the post-secondary level or not?

Why is it their work raising the future leaders underestimated and often dismissed? Perhaps in order to validate the career-oriented lifestyle, people feel obligated to diminish the alternative of staying at home to raise children.

When motherhood was mentioned at the UN convention, it was used for the topic of “safe motherhood.” At the UN, this term is a duality. In addition to physical maternal safety, it is an assurance of access to safe abortions. So, a woman who does not have easy access to abortion would be presumed to have an unsafe motherhood.

Why is motherhood a state of being so greatly feared that the mother has the right to stop being a mother at the expense of human life? Removing the responsibility of motherhood undermines its value and the value of women who undertake this home profession. The portrayal of motherhood at this conference as a burden and negative for women’s rights is a severe contradiction to the many happy mothers I know.

Abortion was, therefore, seen as a tool to eliminate the threat of motherhood, which was deemed a restriction to women. Presented as a solution to “safe motherhood,” abortion is in fact an elimination of the possibilities, rather than a creation of new options. Life should always be valued, even if it is hard, or inconvenient. Both lives are equally valued and important to society. It does not solve pain, trauma, rape, incest or abuse in relationships, even if in the short term it solves the “problem” of pregnancy.

The UN seems to ignore that the true solution to a good life for women in crisis is help, not access to abortion, which was so heavily promoted. It makes me wonder if we aren’t getting too comfortable with fast, destructive solutions, rather than allowing women to be helped with creative, holistic and productive ways of living.

(Lau, 20, of Toronto, is a summer intern at the World Youth Alliance in New York.)

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