First Person

Mother’s Day: convincing a skeptic

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Entrepreneur Marie Carole St. Juste, right, with her mother Marie Carmel Etienne outside her shop in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. A small-business grant from Oxfam helped St. Juste reopen her store selling cold drinks after it was destroyed in Haiti's 2010 earthquake. Photo: Toby Adamson / Oxfam

I tend to resist holidays that are construed by purveyors of greetings cards, florists, and chocolate makers. Sentimental gushes of appreciation leave me in a state of shock and awe. Why is it considered important to honor mothers on May 8 (Mother’s Day falls on this date in the US)? I looked up the historical significance of this day, and couldn’t find any substantial information that convinced me of its importance. What then is the point?

That’s why, as I researched potential gift ideas for moms from Oxfam America Unwrapped this year, it struck me that I’m not the most ideal candidate for this role.

Still, I reflected on the holiday for a few days, and threw possible ideas on the white board of my skeptical mind. Seasonally, spring is a time of renewal and rebirth, connecting directly with motherhood. Ancient cultures celebrated women for their fertility, and the environmental angle is well established. We have only to say the words “Mother Earth” and images of abundance: lush forests, and streams teeming with fish spring up.

Most vital, however, and what convinced me of the importance of this holiday, were the stark facts about women and poverty:

Sixty-six percent of the world’s work falls on women’s shoulders, yet they earn only 10 percent of the world’s income. According to UNESCO, worldwide in 2008, nearly 800 million people over the age of 15 could neither read nor write—and two-thirds of them were women.  Early pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death among girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in developing countries, excluding China.

On a more personal note, my home country of India’s latest census reveals some shocking numbers, proving that years of rampant female infanticide have resulted in a skewed sex ratio. Currently, India has 914 girls under age 6 for every 1,000 boys. A decade ago, the ratio was 927 to 1,000. A recent piece in the Economist dissects these findings, which foretell a bleak future for India’s female children, and for the country’s overall approach to gender equality.

These statistics bring home the message that Mother’s Day is an opportunity to honor not just the women you know and love, but in effect, all women everywhere. I’m not suggesting that you buy a goat or children’s toys as presents for the billions of women on our planet, although if you’re super rich, don’t let me stop you.

But on a more realistic note, we can all aspire to send our wishes for Mother’s Day far and wide, and do whatever we can, to support women so that they can lift themselves out of the vicious cycle of poverty to lead more educated, secure, and empowered lives. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+