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14 Mar, 2010

Motherhood: The World’s Most Important “Job”

Originally Published: 14 Mar 2010

The commemoration of International Women’s Day last March 8 has been marked with a special fervour this year. Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is the third of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the anti-poverty targets world leaders have pledged to attain by 2015.

According to UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro, significant progress in realising women’s rights is crucial to achieving sustainable development and the globally agreed targets to slash poverty, hunger, illiteracy and a host of other socio-economic ills. “Women and girls still face discrimination and disadvantage socially, economically and politically,” she was quoted as saying.

Ms. Migiro noted that many countries recognise that women are more likely to be living in poverty and have increased social safety nets, often as part of larger efforts to reduce women’s vulnerability to poverty. Progress is being made toward gender parity in primary schooling, and in some countries women outnumber men in tertiary education, she pointed out.

At the same time, females represent two thirds of the world’s illiterate people. Conditional cash transfer programmes that provide incentives for attendance in education are among the strategies that countries are employing to change this.

She also called for boosting women’s access to decision-making in society, noting that women comprise more than 30 per cent of the representatives in the national parliaments of only 25 countries. “Quotas for women have been useful, but countries must also show innovation in applying strategies and targets for women’s participation in all areas of decision-making in the public and private sectors.”

Women must also have a far greater role in the resolution of armed conflicts and peacebuilding, and must be fully included in the post-conflict development of governments, institutions and civil society, she added.

One of the most significant announcements was by the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) which said that domestic workers around the world are organizing to challenge the harsh, abusive, often slave-like conditions in which they work. They are organizing unions and support networks, and they are mobilizing in support of an international Convention that will finally recognize them as workers and establish their rights in international law.

While these are all laudable goals, certain aspects of this pursuit of gender equality are producing less than desirable results.

One article in Forbes magazine noted the impact on family life and children as women seek to pursue their professional ambitions. It cited the example of one professional woman executive who launched a jewellery line of business and then “chose to live in Manhattan, two hours away from her husband and two sons in Connecticut.”

This was a necessary trade-off, but its price will not be paid until years later, by when it may be too late.

I once got roundly ticked-off by a table-thumping feminist when I told a seminar on the portrayal of women in the media that males and females were designed differently by whatever force that created us in order to serve a specific purpose. The reality is that men cannot give birth, nor can we make one of the most important investments absolutely critical for raising strong, healthy children – breast-feeding.

Promoting breast-feeding is also one of many laudable UN campaigns to create a better world, especially a better future world. The nutritional qualities of mother’s milk can never be replicated by any other force on the planet. An investment in those first few months of life delivers a return on investment all through life.

Yet, many women today don’t have time to make that investment because they are too busy “investing” in their businesses and professional careers. One delivers short-term gain and the other long-term gain. Smart businesspeople know that both are equally important.

However, according to one maternal health website, “For mothers who are unable to breastfeed or who decide not to, infant formula is a good alternative. Some women feel guilty if they don’t breastfeed. But if you feed your baby with a commercially prepared formula, be assured that your baby’s nutritional needs will be met.”

That may be true momentarily, but I would wager that an infant fed on a product created by God or Mother Nature or whatever force of creation one wishes to cite develops into a far, far better human being than an infant weaned on a product created by Man (or Woman).

The feminists at the seminar got even more upset when I suggested that running a good home was far more important than running a good company, and that there was a false perception amongst women that “success” could only be measured in terms of how far they advanced in their careers and “competed” with men in terms of earnings, status and professional advancement.

There is no better, more valued and more important “job” in this world than motherhood – and that job can only be performed by a woman. Fatherhood just doesn’t cut it. In corporate terms, it would be described as “putting the right person in the right job.”

Mothers are the “chief executives” par excellence. Many women are very “successful” in corporate life but absolute disasters as mothers and spouses; they choose to “invest” in the wrong priorities.

This imbalance in “investment priorities”, unfortunately, is going to get worse. In an increasingly globalised world, the pressure for double-income families is seeing more women enter the work-force, which means less time invested in homes, families and children. This pursuit of short-term gain will invariably lead to long-term pain.

The creation of more balanced societies should, in reality, mean that men ought to spend more time staying at home with the family and helping with housework rather than “networking” and getting sloshed in bars. The women at the seminar applauded this suggestion roundly, especially as many of them had been at the receiving end of what happens when the drunks come home.

They also heartily agreed with another suggestion – ending the flagrant stereotyping of the female form by the advertising industry.

Sure, sex sells products but aren’t there better ways of doing it other than by requiring the women to strip down to virtually nothing? Would those responsible for making those decisions – including the many women working in advertising — like to see their own daughters publicly portrayed thus in giant billboards around town?

Think about it.