How important is motherhood to us as a society? I want to generate a dialogue on how our global society views, upholds or defends the rights of mothers. During the next 5 days I will share parts of an article I had published in the San Juan Star several years ago. I thought taking it piece by piece would help us focus the dialogue. Please feel free to leave any comment, no matter how short.
REFRAMING MOTHERHOOD IN THE CONTEXT OF EQUALITY
During the month of May we celebrate one of our most sacred holidays – Mother’s Day. At this time we honor our mothers, buy them flowers, take them out to a nice restaurant and recognize their sacrifice and care. During our celebration it is also fitting that we should examine the spiritual significance of motherhood, the vital contribution which mothers provide to civilization and the rights of mothers, which society ought to protect.
In the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, God, the child, and the mother are linked in a sacred bond, reflecting that motherhood is a channel of Divine bounty and grace:
“O SON OF BOUNTY! Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things. Thus, ere thou didst issue from thy mother’s womb, I destined for thee two founts of gleaming milk, eyes to watch over thee, and hearts to love thee.” 1
While still in the womb, the child draws from the nurturing and safety provided by the mother, and continues through infancy and childhood, to either thrive or perish by the integrity of that bond.
“Mothers are the first educators of children, who establish virtues in the child’s inner nature. They encourage the child to acquire perfections and goodly manners, warn him against unbecoming qualities, and encourage him to show forth resolve, firmness, and endurance under hardship, and to advance on the high road to progress.”2 Therefore, “the training which a child first receives through his mother constitutes the strongest foundation for his future development.”3
In the context of this spiritual bond between mother and child, and of the vital contribution to society which mothers provide, the lack of protection afforded to motherhood is deeply disturbing. In too many places women bear children under conditions of severe physical and psychological duress, with little regard paid to the sacredness of the mother-child bond, or to the critical importance of child rearing to society. Furthermore, certain practices and conditions currently existing in the world raise the general neglect of motherhood to the level of inhuman atrocity. Among these conditions is the growing use of rape-induced-pregnancy as a weapon of war, the fact that 27 million women and their children are on-the-run refugees, the existence of laws such as guarbhabat where women are imprisoned for miscarriages, or countries where women are forced to have late term abortions due to population control policies.
But even when the oppression of mothers does not take this extreme, it is often present in lesser forms. While as individuals we value our mothers, as a society we have not yet come to a full understanding of their importance. This is reflected in our attitudes, policies and neglect.
At this critical and chaotic stage of its development, it is imperative that the global community re-evaluate the role and function of motherhood, in its highest and most ideal form, free from the onus of traditional gender discrimination which has by and large used motherhood as an excuse to keep women socially and economically disadvantaged. If the functions of motherhood are critical to the well-being of societies, then they must be preserved, encouraged and protected, in the context of the vision of a just society.
This examination is necessary because we are increasingly subject to an invasion of global culture that could sweep us into losing some of the strongest elements of motherhood.
“The great challenge facing society is to make social and economic provisions for the full and equal participation of women in all aspects of life while simultaneously reinforcing the critical functions of motherhood.” 4 For this reason, it is fitting that we consider the rights of mothers, and the tools needed for their important work. Among these rights are health, education, material means and time.
1 Bahá’u’lláh, Persian Hidden Words, (Mona Vale, Australia: Bahá’í Publications Australia, 1995), no. 29, page 46.
2 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Women: Extracts from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, comp. Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, (Bahá’í Canada Publications, 1986), no. 2132, page374.
3 Shoghi Effendi, “Bahá’í Education,” The Compilation of Compilations: Prepared by the Universal House of Justice 1963-1990, Vol. 2 (Australia: Bahá’í Publications Australia, 1991), pages 303-304.
4 National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Two Wing of a Bird: The Equality of Women and Men, (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1997), pages 6-7.