For the 12th year in a row, international non-profit Save the Children ranks the well-being of mothers and children in over 160 countries around the world. With Mother’s Day in the US fresh on our minds, this timely report reveals what women need to raise their children, and the direct link between women’s status and the health and welfare of children.
The highest ranking countries have many things in commmon. Men and women earn nearly equal wages. Women are heavily involved in government and public policy. Education is accessible and affordable and mothers have many years of formal schooling. Women’s life spans are longer, and when they give birth they are attended by qualified medical personnel. They are unlikely to die in childbirth or from a pregnancy-related condition. The highest ranked countries this year are found in Europe, with Australia and New Zealand also in the top 10. Norways is number 1, followed by Australia, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. The US ranks 31st. The country in last place, where maternal conditions are the most dire, is Afghanistan.
The contrast between mothering in the top tier countries and those on the bottom is vast. Mothers’ needs do not vary much, but how these needs are met in different places explains much about the state of the world today. In Norway, every mother giving birth will do so with medical assistance. In Afghanistan, only 14% of women have that help. The average lifespan for a Norwegian woman is 83, and the average number of years of formal education is 18. The use of contraception is widespread and children rarely die under 5 years old. However, an Afghani woman will die before she turns 45, with only 5 years of schooling. Only 16% use modern contraception and 1 child out of 5 dies before five years old.
The disappointing showing of the US is due to many factors. One out of every 2000 US women will die from a pregnancy-related cause. Ireland, Italy, and Greece do a much better job of keeping pregnant women alive. In fact, the maternal mortality rate is 15 times better in Greece, with only 1 woman out of 31,800 dying due to pregnancy or childbirth. Acess to healthcare, obviously, is the primary reason for the discrepancy. Our child mortality rate is higher too, with 8 out of 1,000 children dying before their 5th birthay. Young children in Singapore, Latvia, Slovenia, and Luxembourg and 35 other countries have a better chance than they do here. We have fewer children, percentage-wise, enrolled in pre-school, fewer women in politics, no nationally guaranteed paid maternity leave policy, and a greater gap between men’s and women’s income. Mothers, and indeed women, are better off in many other countries.
To move up the list, the US could start by focusing on women’s economic and political participation. If more women filled state and federal public office, local and federal policies would begin to reflect the needs and desires of other demographic groups besides white men. Political power and economic equality will move hand in hand, minimizing the gender-based pay gap. Mothers must have access to health care at all points in their reproductive lives, and be able to secure it for their children as well. The only indicators where the US currently shines are women’s life expectancy (82) and years of formal education (17). That leaves an awful lot of room for improvement. As the single remaining super-power and the most promising modern democracy to date, we cannot hope to fulfill our goals and ambitions by neglecting the very people upon whom our success depends.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington