As we look at the prominent and adoring coverage of celebrity moms and babies—such as the media excitement that surrounded the birth of Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy—how can we doubt that motherhood, and the health and welfare of all mothers, is a cornerstone of our culture?
Yet the International Museum of Women’s new online exhibition, MAMA: Motherhood Around the Globe, suggests a far more complex and confusing picture: both the global statistics and our exhibition tell a story that is very different to the glowing and positive picture that surrounds each new celebrity birth.
Every 90 seconds a woman somewhere in the world dies from a complication of pregnancy or childbirth, and most of these deaths are preventable. And while it is true that the vast majority of these deaths occur in the developing world, the U.S. significantly lags other developed nations; the United States’ rate of maternal mortality is the highest of any industrialized country.
Additionally, over 200 million women globally want access to contraception, so that they can choose to become mothers at a time when both they and their families are healthy and stable. But they cannot get it, because it is either unavailable or culturally unacceptable. As a result their children are born too close together, or when the mother is too young or too unwell, and the health of both mother and child is at risk.
Our exhibition uses art, photography, and storytelling to illuminate the human stories that lie behind these stark statistics—from Tulkumaripun, a mother in Bangladesh whose life was saved by a local hospital and advances in maternal care, to Lusina, an African mother of five, who first became pregnant at the age of 13.
The stories and statistics we uncovered in our exhibition are the reason why I’m joining Christy Turlington Burns and the Every Mother Counts campaign to take a pledge for mothers all over the world. The online pledge is a response to these dire statistics, and the stories they represent, and a promise to make sure needless maternal deaths are prevented.
I’m adding my name to a list of women who are standing up for the rights of women everywhere to have a safe pregnancy and birth. Each one of us—whether we’re in the United States, Ghana, India, or Nepal—is saying that we will hold our government accountable to the United Nations Millennium Development Goal number 5, which committed the world to decreasing the number of maternal deaths and improving access to reproductive healthcare by 2015.
Sadly, of the eight Millennium Development Goals, this one has made the least progress. Like Christy Turlington Burns, I think it’s time to say that mothers matter and that we need to get this goal back on track. Every signature will be presented to the UN General Assembly in New York this September.
As Christy says in this message that accompanies the online pledge, every needless death of a mother deprives the world of love. It deprives a child of a mother, a family of a loved one, and a community of an incredible force for stability, leadership, and change.
If you do just one thing today, visit the MAMA exhibition to learn more about the realities of mothers around the world and take the maternal health pledge to show your commitment to the health, leadership, and empowerment of mothers all over the world.
The Maternal Health pledge is part of MAMA: Motherhood Around the Globe, a global online exhibition that highlights the experiences, stories, art, and ideas of mothers all over the world. You can learn more about maternal health in the exhibition’s current gallery, “Healthy Mama, Healthy Baby”.