Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Adebimpe Onifade, Ph.D.
[email protected]
New York, NY, USA

Tribute to Mothers

n May 12, 2002, the world celebrated yet another Mother's day, and it is considered apposite to pay glowing tributes to Mothers all over the world. Please permit me to unabashedly and gratefully declare and sing the praise of my mother and the mother of my children in this article. It took me until 1998 to fully appreciate the meaning of "Honor thy father and thy mother- for your days to be long upon the land, which Lord thy God giveth thee (Exodus 20:12), which is the fifth law received by Moses on Mount Sinai. Indeed, the full depth of my understanding came about while watching a Christian Video Cassette I bought for my daughter on her birthday, and one of the songs emphasized that this is the only law with definitive reward as documented in Ephesians 6:1-3. When I was very young, my parents always emphasized to us that the law applies not only to them, but also to all that are older than us, and my Mom strictly enforced this law, as such, I have to call everyone older than me, "Broda" the Yoruba transliteration of English word "Brother". As was I growing up, I found that Yoruba culture, which clearly defined linguistic respect for addressing the elderly is unique and many other cultures though respects their elders, but hardly emphasize it culturally and linguistically in the Yoruba way. I equally found that everyone likes to be respected and appreciated even the little infants. Expressing appreciation to others stimulate internal happiness, reinforces self worth in them, and naturally creates conducive and receptive disposition to the person showing appreciation, thus providing thesis to the reward promised in the Biblical law. It is unequivocal that when honor is given to whom it is due, happiness and tranquility will prevail. Mothers all over the world deserve our honor because they are honorable, noble and inestimable jewel to humanity and worthy of all the praises.

In this article, I intend to pay tribute to Mothers interchangeably with all the women in the world in spite of their status. A second integral aspect of the article highlights some current trends in the women development and the family with the aim to offer some keen insights to future trends, ways to improve the emergent problems and the need for the global community to do more for women's emancipation and empowerment. It is hoped that while celebrating the role of Mothers, critical trends in motherhood and family, which appears to be in dilemma and irreversible, need to be positively addressed and the negative unforeseen consequences should be mitigated. The modern multidisciplinary roles of women being Mom to their children, Wife to their husbands, responsibility to herself, and worker to her employer are major separate duties, which are not additive, but divisive, emotionally and physically centrifugal. Only the women and Mom could withstand these stresses, and it is only when the society could take a good care of her that the society will be better off.

It goes without saying that Moms all over the world deserve our profound respect, yet many may consider it not so important to write about it because their roles is commonly taken for granted. Yes, this was the common assumption, and one could find many of today's writers feeling more comfortable writing political critiques, fictions, romance, etc, while considering writing about mothers as being somewhat unnecessary. Motherhood is critically and solely one of the important biological functions of all God's creation, which deserve abundant respect, support and motivation to make it easier to perform in the face of contemporary civilization that have almost completely eroded all the time and space for mothers to perform their unique natural responsibility. Indeed, it is this discernibly scanty writing on Mom in our publications and journals that motivate my current humble effort. If we could ask, why are Moms so important and why are we to honor them so that our days may be long? Before answering the question, could we still philosophize why Prophet Mohammed answered his followers after the third time that the Mom is more important than the father. On the same token, could we ask why almost every child is emotionally attached to the Mom and frequently less closely than the father in spite of the psychological theory of "Oedipus / Electra Complex" of the child? Yes, these questions have biological, spiritual and sociological interpretations, and I will idiosyncratically discuss these aspects of mother and child eternal relationships in subsequent paragraphs.

First, biologically, the greatest shareholder or rather the burden bearer in procreation is the Mother who initially would equally donate a fertile egg for the Man's sperm, and who afterwards carry the pregnancy for approximately 270 days with serious "physiological struggle" between the developing new life and the old life, the fetus and the mother, respectively. Obstetrical science is still awed by the complexity of the immunological tolerance processes that circumvents and escapes the natural rejection and death that rapidly follows all foreign grafts, of course with the exception of pregnancy. At this juncture, I would crave the indulgence of the reader to emphasize the importance of this process of gestation by drawing a parallel with the same process as it occurred in reptiles and some lower animals. Homo sapiens, like other mammals are defined specially because the Mom carries the baby within her divinely designed womb in which the fetus developed to term and she give birth to the offspring to be suckled to weaning stage. Some reptiles like snakes have to lay eggs, and in order to bring the new ones to life after the incubation, the mother snake will swallow the incubated eggs and sprawled on ground forcefully to hatch the "new live snakes", but afterwards in the process, she will have to die for young ones to live. This biologically defined process for some reptiles is not too far to the countless ante- peri- and post-natal morbidity and mortality suffered by millions of Moms all over the world. Buttressing the above is the World Health Report 2001, which documented that 4.4 per cent of world's total death of 55,694,000 in 2000 was due to perinatal conditions, thus ranking it the seventh major killer of human being. This statistics is particularly alarming because it only applies to women. May God repose the souls of Moms that have paid the supreme sacrifice in order that their children may live. In the same vein, countless undocumented women have lost their lives or have their reproductive abilities severely compromised at the hands of quacks offering unsafe abortions.

Extending the foregoing reciprocally exclusive process in some reptilian Moms to grant lives to the new ones, also human Mothers suffer nearly equal proportion of pains, and the spiritual and biological separation of the child from the Mom at birth concomitantly has tremendous meanings to both personalities post natal. Since the Homo sapiens have to internally "incubate" their new ones during the gestation period, the overwhelming ramifications of burdens on the pregnant Mom cannot be over exaggerated, more so, it comes differently for Moms and varied with different pregnancies. This singular biologically conferred ability to support internal development of a new life and withstanding the attendant multifarious stresses makes Mothers to be physiologically superior to men albeit the former enjoys a lot of physical energy. The magnitude and spectra of stresses suffered during pregnancy and parturition, in most cases have effects on women beyond the childbirth. Lets take for example the dramatic weight changes, edema, mood swing, faster metabolism, hormonal aberration, faster aging, and general dermatological weakness consequent upon the "spatial expansion" suffered during pregnancy, psychological and psychiatric problems, etc. Indeed, some of these changes are inelastic and remains permanent or worsens even after birth creating indelible marks of pregnancy- the act of bringing another person to life. One needs not to be an obstetrician / gynecologist to see profound changes occurring in many women during and after pregnancy. Living out the reproductive roles of women has conferred on them the additional burden of increased susceptibility to morbidity and mortality from mammary and reproductive tract cancers like breast, ovarian, and vaginal cancers, and these various cancers are becoming major contributor to deaths among women. Indeed, maternal death at childbirth, which is still common in many developing countries, is exclusive to the female gender. God have mercy! In spite of foregoing observations, it is platitudinous to take for granted and trivially assumed that our women and Mom are created solely for this procreation process. Yes, while their reproductive role is unquestionably unique, nevertheless, a grateful world should not only commemorate Mom's impacts and importance in other spheres, but conscious attempt to improve their lots around the world will be a major benevolence of humanity to humanity.

After expounding on the biological importance of Mom, it could be reasoned that the preeminent biological association between the mother and child strongly qualify for a spiritual interrelatedness or interconnectedness. Using a very simple example to buttress spirituality of pregnancy, when Mary the Mom of Jesus visited Elizabeth, the pregnancy in the latter leapt for joy and instantly recognized Jesus in utero, and the other woman said "Blessed are you among women" (Luke 1:41-44). Supporting the same incident, Prophet Mohammed claimed "No other woman is blessed like Virgin Mary- for carrying the pregnancy of Jesus. In an earlier Biblical story, the uterine struggle between Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25: 22-24), already indicated the "preferred" of the twins even before they were born, which later in adult life was demonstrated by Esau selling his birth right to Jacob (Genesis 25: 31-34). In another simple but less appreciated illustration, the whole process of embryogenesis, in spite of today's achievements in In Vitro fertilization and Cloning still have a fundamental mystery of how the "successful" sperm achieved the status out of millions of counterparts by being singly capable of fertilizing the ovum provided by the Mom. It is also a mystery that a pregnancy conceived and successfully termed could bring forth a child that physically resembles neither the Mom nor the father, yet a completely legitimate child. How do we fully explain this beyond primordial genetics of the parents and the embryogenic chances of meiotic cell division and subsequent mitotic (somatic) cell division? Furthermore, it also remains almost impracticable to complete mammalian creation without a surrogate Mom even with cutting edge advancement in reproductive biotechnology - cloning. Whereas there are infinite possibilities with science, overcoming the requirement of Mom for a successful creation of a new mammalian life will probably remain insurmountable for a long time. It is in the foregoing respects that I infer the deep spiritual interrelationship between the Mom and the child, and more importantly, why Moms all over the world should be profoundly appreciated for their pre- and post- natal spiritual relatedness to the child. May God bless Mothers!

Another obvious but often trivialized aspect of Mom is that she is the first earthly "sociological instructor, friend and role model" for the new baby. In spite of the numerous caregivers that may surround the newborn, the Mom remains the longest staying and interacting personality to the child assuming no medically informed physical separation between them, and indeed, insofar as the mother is alive, the child will still spend his / her longest number of days with the Mom. Little wonder the baby can discern even the body smell of the Mom. For Homo sapiens, the fact that our newborn comes to live weaker than their counterparts in the animal kingdom has been attributed to the relatively large size of our brains and our erect posture. This evolutionary development (or creationism) further necessitates a longer acquaintance between the Mom and the child unlike such animals like sheep and goats. In the process of this longer acquaintance, the Mom and the child bind almost inseparably and share a lot together. And principally the mammalian endowment to suckle the newborn creates an exceptional interaction with the new child not only psychosocially, but also medically, for the colostrums in the Mom's breast milk contains necessary native weaponry termed immunoglobulins, which fight life wars against microbial invaders. It is a fact that the children deprived of this essential ammunition perish in their millions demonstrating the sophisticated potency of this maternally acquired ammunition. Indeed, this is another priceless instance of the preeminent role of Mom in procreation and post-natal development of the child. This is because despite the genetically conferred immunity derived from both parents, the newborn need reinforcement with the Mom's immunoglobulins expressed in the milk very early after childbirth, and indeed some other lateral immunities against pediatric diseases such as tetanus is being channeled through pre- and post natal immunizations of mothers. Baby friendly initiative (BFI) launched by World Health Organization years ago, recognized the vital importance of the Mom's breast milk and conclusively provided evidence to show its irreplaceability with synthetic or cow's milk. The BFI identified other scientifically proven reasons beyond ordinary feeding the child before promoting the campaign worldwide. With the foregoing, it becomes quite understandable that Mom's exceptional and unique role during pregnancy, her care and closest earliest interactions with the child usually transform into a lifelong inseparable relationship. Furthermore, evidence exists that a mother is more likely to expend her earnings on improving the health and nutritional status of her young ones than the father who rightly or wrongly has other competing outlets. This certainly translates to better infant and child survival and less morbidity and mortality. For all these unique roles of Mothers in our lives, they obviously deserve our unreserved grateful tributes. Thank you Mothers!

Many could site instances of Moms with whom we have had personal experiences on their total commitment to the advancement of their children and at the expense of their personal interests. Many mothers have really sacrificed their properties and in some cases their lives for the well being of their children. I recollect with thankful heart my Mom's contribution to my education up to my doctorate and how she expended all her income and even took "cooperative loans" to support my education (my father had a total commitment too hence the dedication of my Ph.D. Thesis to both of them). Still another Ethiopian Mom sponsored her daughter until Ph.D. in an American University, a Kenyan Mom is sponsoring her child University education in the US, a Mom in Sierra Leone sent her child to one of the best schools in England, another Mom in Niamey, Niger Republic sacrificed her continuation of doctorate education to allow her children to pursue their education in the US. A Singaporean Mom is sending her daughter to one the best colleges in the US in spite of the high fees. Another mother sold all her belongings to send her daughter to University in Nigeria. There are many countless examples around the world, and even an increasing number of American mothers are deciding to stay and work from home so as to have enough time for the children and the family. Indeed, I have just received an invitation to subscribe to a newsletter that advises CEO's on how to achieve so much in short time so as to have enough time for their families and the introductory sample contained a lot of top CEOs who have incorporated "Family Time" into their daily activities. My "senior brother" though a friend and a Medical Oncologist almost all the time discussed the importance of having a little time for the children- the foundation of future families, society and the world. Although, this paragraph exemplified efforts that come out very positively, many sacrifices on the parts of many mothers are not always met with success and they singly suffer the consequences. No doubt, readers of this article will have positive statements to make about the unparalleled real life sacrifices of Moms, hence Mothers specially deserve our continual gratitude.

According to development experts, a major global development index of the last century is the advancement in women's education, their entry into the professions and creation of many jobs, involvement in government and NGO's and general improvement in terms of sexual and reproductive health. According to Human Development Report of UNDP for 2001, principally, there are regional disparities predicated on some deep-seated sociological beliefs, cultural practices norms and values, but generally around the world, women appear to be faring better in all development indices. In spite of the general improvement in women's participation in all facets of human economic endeavors raging from politics to business, there are still abundant chances for their greater contributions if nations and communities target right policies and actions to them. As mentioned earlier, women are physiologically stronger than men and they appear to be more frugal in economic management, more family- and child(ren)-focused and less likely to be belligerent and war-prone compared to their male gender. These sterling qualities of women could be fully harnessed to improve the lots of every human society. It will certainly be a more productive and prosperous world, if women can be sustainably economically empowered by allowing them the rights to be educated, employed, marital and reproductive choices.

In spite of the great positive trends in the women development indices, some emergent problems consequential to their increasing involvement in non-home based economy and functions have started to appear and are becoming major problems throughout the world. Discussing the central role-function of the Mom in a family, it is regretful to identify the following problems in the contemporary world, all of which are fundamentally related to women and family. These are as follows and without any prioritization: breakdown of family values and traditional norms, fewer marriages, higher bridal price (dowry), increasing number of single parents, increasing number of co-habitation, increasing number of divorce, increasing number of late marriages, increasing number of extra-marital births, increasing physical separation of families because of occupational deployments, increasing gender based violence and domestic violence against women, increasing reports of sexual harassment, rape, dangerous abortion, teenage pregnancy. The problems of drunkenness and drug addiction among female gender, proliferation of pornography especially on the internet, lesbianism and sex work in the world's major cities in spite of religious restrictions, sexual pedophiles and "sex tourism", religious instructions are increasingly jettisoned, increasing socially deviant behaviors, increasing religious or fundamentalist dressing codes, increasing social segregation based on economic, social and educational statuses. Some of these emergent problems are consequential of others, but the fundamental issue is the fact that women and Moms are having less time for the families. Moms remain the first-hand role models of the child and as mentioned earlier the first friend the child knows in the world, and since the bosom friend is conditionally (occupationally) having less time, the "missing gaps" widen and these translate into the contemporary "chaotic" trends that follows the education and empowerment of Mom.

Submitting twin questions for our collective thinking, could we blame the emergent family and social problems entirely on the "New Roles for Modern Women and could the increasing global trend of women liberation be reversed? To both questions, the answer is No! First, the increasing education of the women is an expected outcome of the widespread availability and possibility of acquiring knowledge. Nowadays is unlike in the olden days when the society is largely patriarchal, completely men's world, and formal education and the desire to acquire it attracted men who naturally seek ways and means to be superior and be actualized. The advent of liberal Christianity supported formal education of women in the West, and this development created the contagion for the rest of the world. The achievement of Biblical Esther and Deborah, wealth and status of Queen Sheba (Bilikis in Islamic Books), many other women in the medieval ages and the crowning achievements of Polish woman Marie Currie as the first and only woman (and probably the only person) to receive Nobel Prizes separately in Chemistry and Physics are legendary to the West, and provided impetus to latter generations. In a little digression, we may have to ask why motherland and not fatherland (although the US is now using homeland), why are nations referred to as her? Could this mean that even patriarchal man has always, though grudgingly allowed the supremacy of the fairer sex when it matters or does it indicates their fragility?

Since those achievements during "Men's world", many notable women have come to world stage and names like former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher who after nearly a decade since she exited Number 10, Downing Street is still arguably the most influential voice in the conservative party, Benazir Bhutto, Indira Ghandi, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and recent ones like Presidents Arroyo of Philippines, Megawathi SukharnoPutri of Indonesia, Chandrika Kamaratunge of Sri Lanka (daughters of former Heads of State of their respective countries). Others are former First lady and now Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton, Condelizza Rice, Louise Frechette, the Deputy Secretary General of UN, some Head of UN agencies such as Gro Harlem Brundtland of WHO (formerly three times PM of Norway), Thoraya Obaid of UNFPA (the first Arab woman to head a UN agency and the first Saudi woman to obtain Ph.D. from US University), Mary Robinson of UNHCHR and Carol Bellamy of UNICEF, etc. Locally, in Nigeria, we have many legendary women of substance like Moremi, Mary Slessor (not a Nigerian), Queen Amina, Funmilayo Kuti, Margret Ekpo, and contemporary ones like Maryam Babangida who revolutionized the position of first lady in Nigeria, Bola Kuforiji-Olubi, etc. Other examples elsewhere in Africa are Winnie Mandela and Graca Machel (the only woman to have married / companion of two Presidents from different countries).

Without allowing those aforementioned examples to becloud the issue at hand, I must categorically reiterate that the progress of women education, empowerment and employment is irreversible. Indeed, global action to expand the opportunities and efforts to remove all discriminatory cultural and religious constraints to empower the women must ascend to frontline actions and policies of all nations and societies. And it is totally heartwarming, as gender mainstreaming seems to have recently assumed front place in most development agencies. Education and empowerment will generate wealth, alleviate poverty, reduce sexual and reproductive risks, strengthens family, renew the society and improve the world. These are the positive trends expected, and this could be furthered, but it will require individual efforts, society and governmental support. Since the education and the empowerment of the women invariably benefits the family it remains a worthy cause to follow, yet the unintended consequences mentioned earlier in this article are just some that can be readily remembered, but certainly the list of problems is not exhaustive, more so I did not conduct any direct research to identify these problems.

Realizing the complex, unintended, unbecoming and often less understood or rather trivialized issues consequential to women empowerment and education, how could we solve these problems? The first principle to deal with this problem is to recognize it as a dilemma and that it is not necessarily limited to women development, rather issues such as industrial development and military expenditure or defense and other human endeavors also have their dilemmas. It will be inappropriate and diversionary to discuss some of the dilemmas that occur in the foregoing examples, however, in the context of women development, concerted and conscious efforts should be made to concentrate on managing the paradox of women emancipation vis-�-vis the delinquencies in family and society.

Now can we come up with mother-friendly initiatives for sustainable motherhood? Yes, the human society should collectively allow common sense and moderation to prevail in our actions, the individual should seek fulfillment beyond materialism, there could be culturally tailored education curriculum on virtues of family, and its importance as the foundation of future human societies and how we all owe it sacred to our creator and posterity. More family targeted research especially those with objectives to identify economically fulfilling roles for women and mothers without taking them too far away from their families, i.e., finding alternative and fulfilling professions. Women voluntary non-governmental organizations will have to search inwardly collectively to address their major problems and this can be done in concert with family and women rights groups, religious bodies. Women's world can be greatly improved by optimizing the potentials of Internet especially in acquiring education while at home in form of distance learning. Indeed, globalization will only benefit the educated and skilled. In a radical approach, the major companies and private sectors could delegate duties to Mom in their homes and they may be required not to be physically present in the official workplace. It will resemble a form of outsourcing, virtual or remote offices, but in this case, the female employee is a staff of the company that is allowed to work from home. In the same token, a more flexible working hours could be worked out for Moms and their log in time to their professional duties can be monitored with available communication technology. Similarly financial services, courier and major haulage companies could make working at home a greater possibility, information and communication technologies could leverage the possibility of granting more time for Mothers to stay at home. It may also be possible for parents to decide which of them will spare the time to stay with the children at home, and the family, will also benefit by integrating children very early into "family chores" without necessarily resulting to "child labor". If today's children are treated like adults they may contribute meaningfully and created some useful time for the parents to do some other things. All these apply to Moms in developed countries and their situation is profoundly different from their counterparts in less developed countries whose case is discussed below.

For mothers in developing world, their bane of problem is poverty, disadvantageously skewed and negatively discriminatory access to education, reproductive choices, employment, family burden, etc. Overcoming women problems in developing world is a gargantuan task, but the good index is their increasing access to education, which though still very low, but the trend is promising. For Moms and women in the Third World countries (TWC) their major problems are access to food and domestic fuel, farmlands, potable water, finance, and health. The crux of the matter is that there are more women in poverty all over the world than men whereas if their basic life necessities could be met, the alleviation of poverty in their lives could have a lot of tremendous positive impacts on the family and a huge multiplier effect on society. The mission statement of World Food Program of the United Nations recognizes that women are the first solution to hunger and poverty. Women not only cook food, they sow, reap and harvest it. Yet in many developing countries, they eat last and least. Due to the critical and "breadwinnership" role of many women in their families, it can be suggested that microcredits should be consciously offered to women at very low and probably zero interest rate. Such microcredits could be supported with cooperative inspired education on how to start small businesses encompassing all locally possible value-added enterprises. The women in TWC are predominantly farmers of crops and / or animals. They could be encouraged to take to microlivestocks such rabbits, sheep and goats, guinea pigs, rural poultry, snails, etc. When these are combined with vegetable production, food processing, selling of farm implements, etc, rural economies can be stimulated and vertical and lateral integration of the business is possible. Education and information to conduct the business, credit management, and even health, food processing could be communally shared. Provision of potable water will remain a major problem, however, the global NGO's and international philanthropists could be attracted to different communities with organized women NGO's.

How could the society help? Communities owe it a responsibility to renew their social environment to expand opportunities to women and families. Religion will still have to play prominent place in our lives in spite of the advent of liberalism in the global place. Indeed, it may sound stupid and difficult to comprehend, the downplaying of religion in the West and the deifying of materialism have permeated the every part of the world thereby weakening all religious adherents. When Moms were full time housewives, there was enough time to be godly and truly religious and this reflected on all the families, virtues were instilled into children and this reflected in orderly and mutually respectful humanity. Also, it is incumbent on governments worldwide to articulate policies, demonstrate real actions to improve women status and arrest the incipient negative trends consequential to the vertical migration of women into the professions beyond the usual housewifery. Government and private employers should realize that in spite of the economic incentive to work and earn money, many a mother is working to obtain "occupational therapy" for several unknown psychological and possibly medical reasons. Government in concert with researchers could identify ways and means to "insure" the future of workers and to recompense those mothers (and or fathers) that are sacrificing to take care of home and those opting to marry since the fear of loosing jobs may be discouraging women (men) to marry and bear children.

Conclusion This article principally extols the biological, spiritual and social interconnectedness of mothers to their children. It notes the dilemma following the vertical movement of the women into non-home based functions, which albeit is a response to the modern civilization, and the trend is irreversible because it will engender more prosperous human society, but the incipient negative associated effects have to be mitigated. Women education and empowerment will have to continue, radical approach to twenty-first century professional duties demands our collective thinking and optimal utilization of modern technologies, rational choices at the family levels will also be paramount, and the society and government will have to afford supporting roles. The article does not suggest that Fathers are less important than mothers. May God grant us peaceful and progressive families, societies, and the world.

Dr. Onifade biography had been published in Who's Who in the World since 17th Edition, 2000 (Marquis Publishers, USA) and recognized as International Man of the Year by International Biographical Center, 2001 (UK). He presently works for the United Nations.