by Jarrah Hodge
This weekend many of us in the Western world will be celebrating Mother’s Day. But how are mothers faring here and around the globe? That’s the question Save the Children hopes to answer with their 13th annual State of the World’s Mothers report. The report ranks 165 countries around the globe, looking at factors such as mother’s health, education and economic status, as well as critical child indicators such as health and nutrition.
To jump right to the key results, the study showed Niger as the worst country in the world to be a mother, with Norway coming in as the best. Canada moved up one spot from last year, to place 19th. Save the Children noted that of the 10 countries at the bottom, 7 are in the midst of a food crisis. What many of these countries are seeing is a “vicious cycle” of malnourishment where malnourished mothers give birth to underweight babies. If the mother is not able to feed the baby adequately in the first 1000 days, this can have irreversible effects.
Malnutrition is the underlying cause of more than 2.6 million child deaths each year. 27% of children worldwide are “stunted”, which means they body and mind have suffered permanent damage due to malnutrition. So it is vital to take action, but the report clearly shows that it will be difficult to improve children’s health without improving mothers’ health.
Part of this is improving access to education for women and girls. The report points out that better educated women tend to have fewer, healthier children. UNESCO estimates that each year of girls’ education can reduce child mortality by 9 percent and that universal secondary education could save 1.8 million children’s lives in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Part of the reason Norway lands on top of the rankings is that women there on average have 18 years of formal education and good levels of access to contraception and prenatal health care.
Save the Children is hoping the report will impact the G8 meetings to be held in two weeks at Camp David. Patricia Erb, Save the Children said: “The 2012 State of the World’s Mothers shows clearly that this crisis of chronic malnutrition has devastating effects on both mothers and their children. Canada has delivered on our commitments to the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative. Now our government needs to take the lead on ensuring that nutritional outcomes are tied to any future international food security initiatives.”
A primary recommendation of the report is that countries provide a strong commitment to enable mothers to breastfeed, finding supporting moms to breastfeed could save one million children’s lives a year. Even in low-income countries like Malawi and Madagascar, institutional support and commitment for breastfeeding can have a significant impact. Even Canada scores only “Fair” on the report’s analysis of industrialized countries, partly due to the low percentage of wages paid while on maternity leave and the fact that there is no legal right for mothers to take nursing breaks.
The report is an informative read and includes stories of mothers around the world . You can read the full report and find more info here.
(Photo of Ethiopian mother breastfeeding is the cover of the State of the World’s Mothers report)