The Prophet Muhammad once said 'be at your mother's feet, and there is paradise'.
It's a nice sentiment– but one that's sometimes all too easily forgotten. Two years ago, as the world was embarking on the celebrations of the 100th International Women’s Day, highlighting the progress that had been made in women’s rights around the world, the staff at MADE in Europe (an organization that inspires and enables a grassroots European Muslim youth movement of faith in action for tackling global poverty and injustice) were preoccupied with other thoughts.
We couldn’t help but think of the ongoing scandal of maternal mortality. Every year there were still 500,000 women dying in pregnancy and childbirth. Despite being internationally recognized as a priority issue, maternal health was the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on which the slowest progress has been made. Yet 80% of maternal deaths are completely preventable. Given that it was so easy to save a woman from untold suffering and death – why was so little being done?
Islam has a deep tradition of honouring mothers. The belief that paradise lies at the feet of the mother only serves to emphasise just how high the status of the mother is, and the duty Muslims believe we have to serve our mothers. This is not only due to the hardship she endures in pregnancy, but also because of the central role she plays in society. After all, children whose mothers have died are more likely to die at a young age; more likely to suffer from malnutrition and poor health; more likely to remain illiterate.
It was with this in mind that, two years ago in 2010, MADE in Europe decided to launch At Our Mothers’ Feet, which aimed to raise awareness amongst UK Muslim communities about global maternal deaths. The campaign sought to mobilise UK Muslim communities to become leaders in the fight to save mothers’ lives. We believe that Muslim communities have the power to make a difference, by utilising their strong diaspora links to influence attitudes in countries where maternal mortality is highest, such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan, and by lobbying the growing Muslim charity sector in the UK to deliver more projects on maternal health.
Over the past two years, we’ve delivered workshops to over 1000 British Muslims, produced both a music video and a documentary on maternal healthcare, delivered sermons on maternal healthcare in some of the UK’s largest mosques, and secured the support of over 40 religious leaders for the campaign, giving us the credibility to discuss sensitive issues such as abortion and contraception with faith communities. More than that – we secured pledges from 9 major Muslim charities to increase their work on maternal health. We’ve been supporting these charities by providing the training and resources they need to deliver simple yet effective interventions to help save mothers’ lives.
Yet heartening as this all is – it’s still not enough. With two years to go until the MDG deadline, there are still 800 women dying every day in pregnancy and childbirth. As we enter the third year of the At Our Mothers’ Feet campaign, we cannot help but think of what more we could do.
We believe that if we want to make maternal deaths history, a mass movement needs to develop. By activating people to become campaigners on the topic of maternal healthcare – who lobby their governments and charities on this issue – we can help make maternal healthcare a priority concern around the world.
For this reason, the At Our Mothers’ Feet campaign recently launched the “At Our Mothers’ Feet Campaign Toolkit”, a resource designed to provide British Muslims with the skills, knowledge and guidance they need to develop their own awareness-raising campaigns on the topic of maternal healthcare. Endorsed by the former Minister for International Development Andrew Mitchell MP, the toolkit encourages British Muslim communities to use their unique diaspora links to influence attitudes abroad about issues relating to maternal health – such as women’s rights, education, contraception and child marriage – that can directly impact maternal healthcare provision in their country of origin.
No doubt, greater global efforts will be needed if we are to see the day when avoidable maternal deaths are eliminated once and for all – yet by exploring new and creative ways to help save mothers’ lives, we hope to bring that day a little closer.
For copies of the At Our Mothers’ Feet Campaign Toolkit, please email Sadia Kidwai at firstname.lastname@example.org with your request.