After A Mother is Gone

Time and time again, we have focused on the socioeconomic and environmental conditions that ultimately result in the avoidable deaths of many pregnant women in developing countries. However, we have not really considered the implications of a mother’s death –without understanding how the absence of a mother affects her family and community both immediately and in the long run, we cannot fully combat maternal mortality. In regions like sub-Saharan Africa where approximately 179,000 women die each year, maternal mortality is a public health issue that cannot be separated from the overall wellbeing of the population.  

Mothers are the heart of the family. They act as the bearers of the next generation, giving birth to and raising future workers, leaders, and functioning society members. Education and social statuses of mothers have a great impact on her children’s wellbeing – children of educated mothers are 50 percent more likely to have longer lifespans and make smarter decisions about their health and family planning (The State of the World’s Children 2009 Report, World Health Organization). When the mother is taken out of the picture abruptly and unexpectedly, the family loses a central figure and important household contributor (culturally, emotionally, and financially). Her death also indirectly affects her daughters’ chances of dying when it is their turn to bear children, turning maternal mortality into a familial cycle.

Without a mother, children suffer. Family structure is greatly disrupted, and poverty becomes a great threat to the family. In many already-impoverished households, the strain of maternal medical bills, the death of the mother, and the funeral costs associated with the mother’s death compel many fathers to take their children out of school and put them to work. For school-aged girls, this robs them of the chance to educate and empower themselves on personal health and independence. Girls also feel more pressured to start families earlier, placing them at higher risk of maternal mortality. Infants whose mothers die during the first six weeks of their lives are far more likely to die in the first two years of life than babies whose mothers survive (WHO). The mother is a key figure in ensuring that her household remain as stable and healthy as possible.

Acknowledging the importance of women – especially in developing African countries – is an crucial step in gaining rights for women. In the WHO 2009 State of the World’s Children Report, Aslihan Kes, an economist and gender specialist at International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), stated that “women’s contribution to their families’ wellbeing is immeasurable. They contribute as producers, as income earners, farmers, and entrepreneurs, and at the same time take on most, if not all, of the household care work.” If we have improved policies and increased investment in maternal health care, we could lessen the severity of the impact of maternal deaths on families and communities.

Creating a supportive environment for females, mothers, and newborns is essential in the maternal mortality battle. Maternal mortality is very much a product of the oppressive environment in which women of developing countries live in. Women remain disadvantaged and disempowered at home and in their communities, but if given the tools to empower themselves, they could create a more supportive and healthy environment for themselves and their families. Education is “pivotal to improving maternal and neonatal health, reducing the incidence of child marriage” (WHO 2009 State of the World’s Children Report). Societal female disempowerment propagates the unfortunate maternal mortality trend, but if we educate girls and protect them from discrimination, we could see a further decline in mortality.

A human-rights based approach toward improving quality of and access to maternal care would include addressing gender discrimination and inequities in society through social and cultural changes.  Granting wider access to family planning and adequate diets are cost-effective measures that women of reproductive age have a right to expect. Currently, the rights of many African mothers are being blatantly neglected, leaving them out to die and condemning their daughters to similar fates. They are marginalized, ignored, and used by a society and healthcare system that does not care about them enough. We can change their fates by focusing on creating a female-friendly environment where young girls and women feel safe coming forward for sexual information, medical care, and personal empowerment.


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