POST 124. WOMEN - AS MOTHERS?
This week August 26 was the anniversary of the Women's Strike for Equality, a nationwide US demonstration for women's rights, described by Time magazine as "the first big demonstration of the Women's Liberation movement". Its object was called by the National Organisation for Women (NOW) "the unfinished business of equality".
It offers a good opportunity to look back and review the progress made since that time; how have conditions improved in the workplace and in the home? Bahai teachings describe the mother as the first educator.
O HANDMAID of God!… To the mothers must be given the divine Teachings and effective counsel, and they must be encouraged and made eager to train their children, for the mother is the first educator of the child. It is she who must, at the very beginning, suckle the newborn at the breast of God’s Faith and God’s Law, that divine love may enter into him even with his mother’s milk, and be with him till his final breath.
So long as the mother faileth to train her children, and start them on a proper way of life, the training which they receive later on will not take its full effect.
---Abdul-Baha, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá / 113:
What an amazing responsibility! What a great privilege it is to train and educate a child! And what a travesty if we fail...
So how well are we preparing mothers for this greatest of all roles? Where are the courses and classes for mothers and hopeful mothers-to-be, and for parents in general?
The value which our society places upon home and family can be gauged by looking at the planning provisions made by local bodies for their communities. A clue to this value can be found in both local body terminology and in dictionaries.
At the time I was raising children, the very word `suburban' was defined in Collins Dictionary as "mildly degenerative, narrow or unadventurous in outlook". So this was how people saw the environment in which they raised their children, the future citizens of tomorrow, during their most precious formative years; they relegated them to a degenerative, narrow, unadventurous environment.
In town planner terminology these were ‘dormitory suburbs’, which Collins Dictionary defined as `denoting or relating to an area from which most of the residents commute to work'. That town planners and local bodies called them the dormitory suburbs implies that their primary expectation of the suburbs for which they planned was that they were good places to sleep. Not to rear babies. Not to raise and educate children. Not to provide good quality family life. To sleep.
At the time when I first became house-centred with young babies, significant numbers of mothers were found to be suffering from a new disease; it became known as `suburban neurosis'- defined as a `relatively mild mental disorder characterised by hysteria, anxiety or obsessive behaviour'. The treatment was what one pop song of the day called a `mother's little helper'; tranquillisers of Librium, Valium and the like. Today it is often alcohol or opioids.
This symptom of the continuing failure of women to thrive in the western, middle-class, suburban environment reinforced the prejudice that women are weak and of less importance, and the value of mothers negligible.
In the absence of recognition, support, and a range of resources necessary to support the high expectations of the role, many women have tried to escape the undervaluing and low esteem of the mother in the home by joining the traditional domain of men, losing sight of the value of parenting and replacing it with the search for a bigger and better pay cheque. Consequently, expectations of material needs and wants have risen to reflect this higher income.
The time that once was available for active parenting in the relatively simple lives of a previous generation has shrunk. Conversely the expection of regular international holidays has increased, along with regular replenishing of clothes, household goods and furnishings. That materialistic choice has doomed so many families.
In this process, babies have been relegated to Day Care centres, the elderly to Rest homes, the disabled to institutions. Fathers have felt at a loss as to what their roles should be. The family has become a great place for budgies, tabby cats and garden gnomes, but a very unsafe place for people.
In a study of the time entitled "From Birth to Death III", Judith Davey, Lecturer in Social Policy at Victoria University, lent support to the call from community welfare groups for urgently needed new directions in social policy. Many of the findings of this study related to family breakdown. It highlighted the need for more funding for work with children in women's refuges, identified increasingly higher proportions of children living in sole-parent families, more older teenagers staying at home and dependent on parents, and a trebling of the rate of youth unemployment.
The same study also stated that compared with the European population, indigenous people continue to be disadvantaged in almost all aspects of social and economic life; these differences were great in areas including income, work force participation, life expectancy, and health status, and they especially disadvantaged women. The study noted a deterioration in household income where children were aged 5 to 14.
Nearly one in two indigenous males were convicted of criminal offences before age 24, and the report stated that response to the high rate of offending must recognise the effect of alcohol and drug abuse.
Fast forward to today: the most important problems reported to be facing us in 2018 are mental health and housing related, but also reflect a world facing economic, war and terrorism problems in almost equal measure. The biggest global problems are now economic issues - poverty and the gap between rich and poor - and over-population. Following this are problems associated with war and terrorism, security issues, and the refugee crisis.
In addition are climate change, Donald Trump, social apathy, lack of values, lack of empathy towards others, intolerance and issues related to Government, politicians and political unrest.
All this paints a picture of 'domestic' issues that extend far beyond our shores. The personal has indeed become the political.
The digital revolution has transformed workplaces and people’s lives. The growing demand for gender equality and the increasingly-recognised business benefits of diversity have highlighted the need for economic empowerment for all women.
Last year, the 8th CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women) report to the United Nations, showed that my fellow citizens - women - are doing well in education and work. However, it outlined three areas of forward focus;
- encouraging wider uptake of flexible work so that women aren’t penalised for their choice to balance work with other responsibilities
- encouragement and support for women to work and train in areas that offer good pay and good prospects, such as digital technology, engineering, and trades and construction.
- promotion of diversity in leadership through programmes that educate others on the valuable skills women bring to the table.
This year’s focus area is The Empowerment of Indigenous Women. We still have much to do to achieve gender equity, and to empower women and girls in all aspects of their lives, to deliver positive outcomes for all at a global level. But I remain wondering to what extent the primary consideration of the communities for which we plan is to rear babies. Is it to raise and educate children? Is it to provide good quality family life? When will we raise the status of the family - of mothers and fathers - to the highest level?
Compare the nations of the world to the members of a family. A family is a nation in miniature. Simply enlarge the circle of the household, and you have the nation. Enlarge the circle of nations, and you have all humanity. The conditions surrounding the family surround the nation. The happenings in the family are the happenings in the life of the nation. Would it add to the progress and advancement of a family if dissensions should arise among its members, all fighting, pillaging each other, jealous and revengeful of injury, seeking selfish advantage? Nay, this would be the cause of the effacement of progress and advancement. So it is in the great family of nations, for nations are but an aggregate of families. Therefore, as strife and dissension destroy a family and prevent its progress, so nations are destroyed and advancement hindered.
--‘Abdu’l-Bahá / 58. Theosophical Lodge
Please Note; You can access Practical and Inspiring Family-related resources at: www.enablemetogrow.com