Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Maternal Challenges for the Global Poor 

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Monday,  Monday, May 7 / 12

Zack Gross

While we celebrate Mother’s Day this coming Sunday, May 13th most women around the world will be too busy focusing on the challenges that face their children and themselves, often threatening their very survival. 

While real progress is being reported by United Nations agencies in disease control, child mortality, more children in school and improved access to clean water and sanitation, the poorest of the poor in our world are being left behind in conflict zones, through sexism, and by the negative effects of rapid urbanization. The good news is that 12,000 fewer children are dying each day of poverty related causes. The bad news is that 22,000 per day are still dying, almost 1,000 per hour.  

Maternal mortality rates – the number of deaths of women who are pregnant, giving birth or in recovery – have slowed but remain high. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia tend to be the poorest parts of our world, with the greatest challenges, the least social programs and women and girls in the most vulnerable situations. While both areas report gains in the health of young women and mothers, they are starting from a very low point. 87% of the maternal deaths occur in these two areas. Poorly educated women who are at the low end of the social totem pole and may already be suffering from an illness give birth in unsanitary conditions without proper technology to deal with situations such as a sudden haemorrhage. What an impossible situation!

A way to control population growth and offer women a healthier life that is in their control may be through contraception. There is a continuing “unmet need” in Africa and Asia to empower women, give them a chance to attend school, prevent unintended pregnancies and avoid the risks associated with childbearing, particularly in very young women, via contraception. This social deficit is caused by lack of education and information, unwillingness on the part of male partners, and traditional ideas that oppose modern ways. There are 300 million women on Earth between the ages of 15 and 19 who would benefit from this technology and therefore benefit their children and their communities.  

Women continue to be second class citizens when it comes to education around the world, especially in the poorest areas (Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia) or in conflict areas such as Western Asia (Iraq and Afghanistan). In recent years, girls’ representation in school has grown noticeably, for instance in Latin America and Eastern Europe. They are almost the equal of boys.  The recent economic recession has hurt women’s emancipation, both in the opportunity to get an education and to find a job. Only one-third of women in the world are working outside of agriculture, which means that two-thirds of women have 3D jobs – dirty, difficult and dangerous – and are poorly paid, if at all! 

Women in manufacturing industries were hard-hit by the recession and in areas where there has been recovery, new jobs have been going mostly to men. Making laws that will benefit women may be a long-shot as well, as only 19% of parliamentary representation around the world is made up of women. Where women vie in larger numbers for political position, such as in the great increase in female candidates in the last US election this has not translated into greater electability. There are signs and instances of progress, but no overall momentum. Some countries are closing in on 40% women representatives (Costa Rica), others on electing women speakers (Mozambique, Tanzania) and some have created quotas to ensure women’s participation.  

The Canadian government, through CIDA, recently committed itself to the cause of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health via the Muskoka Initiative, focusing $1.1 Billion in new funding on this issue between 2010 and 2015, to go along with $1.75 Billion that had already been earmarked. The CIDA website says that this funding is aimed at supporting developing country national health plans and priorities and filling existing gaps in programming. This will include medicines to fight disease, increased access to nutritional foods and the promotion of breast-feeding.

One country that CIDA has included in this is Tanzania which ranks 152nd out of 187 on the 2011 UN Human Development Index. The global economic downturn has affected Tanzania’s revenue targets due to diminished demand for their major exports and fewer tourist dollars. The country is an attractive destination for aid dollars as it is a stable, peaceful democracy known for its strong governance and human rights record.  

Mother’s Day is not always so uncomplicated as flowers and chocolate for your favourite woman.

Mothers in many developing countries hope to get an anti-malarial bed net, vaccinations for their children or, and these would be the big steps, a chance at training, a job opportunity or a small loan to start their own enterprise. Then they could truly celebrate!


Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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