(Segment 4 of 5, see previous posts)
REFRAMING MOTHERHOOD IN THE CONTEXT OF EQUALITY:
The Right to Means
According to the Baha’i writings, a corollary of their role as first educators is the right of mothers to the means of subsistence for themselves and their children.12 Society must enforce this right. The alarming trend of non-payment of child-support by men; the high rates of female-headed single parent families; the drop-out rates of pregnant school age girls; all show that women bear a disproportionate penalty and burden in caring for children, and are often trapped in a cycle of poverty that denies them the means to do so.
The Baha’i writings emphatically state that fathers who refuse to provide the means of livelihood and education for their children are accountable before a stern Lord and forfeit the rights of fatherhood.13 In the cases where fathers are unable to provide this support the community is called upon to do so,14 in a manner that preserves the dignity of mothers and does not stigmatize them for their need. Clearly, when men fail to provide for their children, it is unfair for the dishonor to be visited on women. Despite this, some societies that had once been enlightened enough to provide monetary support for needy mothers are now trapped in the confusion and backlash of reactionary views. Thus, we find cases where the separation of mothers from their children is mandated, under the mistaken assumption that the contribution of women to the formal labor force is more important than their contribution to society of nurtured, well-raised children.
12 Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, pages 219-220.
13 Bahá’u’lláh, Kitab-I-Aqdas, page 138.
14 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation, page 300.
Today – It’s funny how in an article you have to state things so dispassionately. Well, all I seem to feel about this subject is passion! Perhaps it’s because I know so many children who are not supported by their fathers. So many women caught in the cycle of poverty. And I see how “the community” treats them. There is such a stigma on these women.
We assume that their predicament is their own fault, that their morals are loose, when all they are, actually, are remnants of broken families. Things didn’t work out, the guy split, they were left behind with the children. We also assume that “the system” takes care of them. It’s not true, the system is broken. Loads of people fall through the cracks, in all kinds of ways. There may be money for food but not for shoes, not for bus fare.
When was the last time that we took a loaf of bread, shared our surplus garden vegetables or our hand-me-downs with a family like that? What will it take for us to decide to be part of their “community”?
Many of the United Nations’ Millennium goals (to end poverty) focus on the empowerment of women as the fastest route out of poverty. There is a lot of worry that we will not achieve these goals because the situation of women is not improving fast enough. Having tried to help just a few women to break that cycle I realize that it takes a lot, each and every one of them needs a mentor, a “fairy godmother” or a steadfast friend. It will happen one by one and in some cases it will take multiple generations. If you cannot empower the woman then empower her children.