There are some causes that are tricky to rally people around: not everyone wants to ban fur coats, for instance; not everyone thinks that restaurants should post calorie counts on their menus. There are other causes, though, that seem pretty much no-brainers: access to clean water, for instance. Is anyone really going to say “yeah, dirty water, I’m a big fan!” Or saving children. Is anyone really going to say (publicly, anyway) that it’s not a good idea to save children?
Even if we all agree that children should be saved, however, we know that all over the world there are children who need saving, in places where governments and infrastructure don’t seem capable of doing what needs to be done. That’s where organizations like Save the Children step in: they help stitch together the services that can help families survive and give governments a much needed hand.
Save the Children came out with its annual “State of the World’s Mothers” list, which uses five metrics to determine where it’s good to be a mother (and a child). The metrics – maternal health, children’s well-being, educational status (of mothers), economic status, and political status— are combined to give an overall score, which determines where a country falls on the list. Of 179 countries, there are the usual suspects at the bottom of the list—countries where war, natural disasters, and poverty combine in a perfect storm of catastrophe: places like Haiti, or Sudan, or Pakistan.
But there are surprises, too, like the fact that the United States doesn’t even crack the top twenty. Nope, the good ol’ US of A pulls in at 33.
Thirty-third in the world, for a country whose overall wealth and education trumps pretty much everywhere else. The US was beaten by, among others, Slovenia, Belarus, Croatia, and the Czech Republic, as well as all those Scandinavian countries that consistently outperform everyone else when it comes to quality of life issues.
You know what most of these places have that the US does not? A significantly higher percentage of women in government. I suppose a statistician would say that fact is not causal but correlative, and I’m sure that some people would insist that just having women in government won’t automatically make things better for women and children (and thus society), but maybe we should try, and then see what happens?
I live at the moment in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, another wealthy country that doesn’t crack the top twenty on this list. I suppose that for many Westerners, it might seem impossible any Middle Eastern country would score well on a list having to do with women’s lives, but the statistics on this list might help defuse those stereotypes. According to this index, 17.5% of seats in UAE government organizations are held by women, compared to 19.5% in the US; in terms of lifetime risk of maternal death, it is better to be a woman in the UAE: 1 in 5800 versus 1 in 1800 in the US. Women in the US average about 16 years of schooling, women in the UAE about 13; and women in the US tend to be wealthier than women in the UAE (53K for the US, 38K for the UAE).
The Save the Children list doesn’t index maternity leave policy, but that offers another interesting point of comparison.
Women in the UAE only receive 45 days of maternity leave, which isn’t enough, obviously, as any woman who has given birth understands. Women in the US get twelve weeks of maternity leave (although I had to call it “disability” leave in order to ensure that I got the requisite number of days). Twelve weeks, that is, of unpaid leave. John Oliver brilliantly skewered this policy on Mother’s Day, pointing out that the United States aligns with Papua, New Guinea, as the only two countries in the world with no paid parental leave policy. In the UAE, if a woman has a medical certificate that attests to her need for more time at home, she can take up to 100 days of additional (unpaid) leave.
Organizations like Save the Children do invaluable, back-breaking work among desperate populations, but their work raises a question that those of us who live with more privilege should be asking–loudly–of ourselves and our communities: why aren’t we all tied for first place? What has to happen to force “resource-rich” countries take care of its most vulnerable citizens? Why aren’t we doing better?
Where does your country rank in this list? And how do you think your country can do better? Any thoughts?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Deborah Quinn in the United Arab Emirates of “Mannahattamamma.”
Photo credit to ‘Save The Children’.