Thursday, March 17, 2011

Society Must Support Mothers, Too

A world in which a mother feels she must be rid of her unborn child in order to live well is not a fair world for women.

As usual, I did not know about International Women’s Day until it was halfway over. The reminder, again, came from my sister in Ireland.

Never mind that it’s been observed around the world since 1911. On March 19, more than one million women and men attended rallies in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland to campaign for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained and hold public office.

But it was the fire a few days later that really got people’s attention. On March 25, 146 garment workers—mostly women—died in a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City because the exit doors were locked.

People paid more attention to working conditions and labor legislation after the Triangle Fire, and New York legislators quickly made changes to the labor laws. IWD subsequently focused on these issues in the United States.

IWD was first observed on March 8 in 1913, when, on the eve of World War I, Russian women campaigned for peace. In 1914, women across Europe followed suit, protesting the war together.

“When the men kill, it is up to us women to fight for the preservation of life,” said Clara Zetkin, a German socialist who first had the idea for an IWD.

In 1917, Russian women hit the streets once again, striking for “bread and peace” in response to the death of over 2 million Russian soldiers. Political leaders opposed the strike, but four days later—March 8—the Czar was forced to resign and the provisional government granted women the right to vote.

The United Nations in 1977 adopted a resolution setting March 8 as United Nations Day for Women’s Rights, to be observed in its member states. In this year’s statement, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon writes, “Only through women’s full and equal participation in all areas of public and private life can we hope to achieve the sustainable, peaceful and just society promised in the United Nations Charter.”

Today, in many countries—such as Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Mongolia, Russia and Vietnam—IWD is a legal holiday. In the U.S., we’ve designated March as Womens’ History Month, when events and observances are held.

Thanks to the courageous women before us, today we have the right to vote, to work in any profession we want, to run marathons, to be paid a fair wage. And the work continues. In Washington, D.C., IWD events included panel discussions of policies concerning immigrant women, lobbying for education and economic support, and a photo exhibit of international women.

We’ve come a long way. But in many ways, it’s still a man’s world. One issue in particular still needs much more attention. Because mothers are women, too.

“There must be a remedy even for such a crying evil as [abortion],” wrote Elizabeth Cady Stanton in The Revolution. “But where shall it be found, at least where begin, if not in the complete enfranchisement and elevation of women?”

In another The Revolution article, Martha Gage wrote, “This subject lies deeper down in women’s wrongs than any other. … I hesitate not to assert that most of [the responsibility for] this crime lies at the door of the male sex.”

Women should have all the same civil rights as men, but women should not live as men. Women should live well as women.

As a society, we must offer support to mothers as mothers so they do not have to choose between the life of their unborn child and their own lives. It is distressful for a woman to be forced into making that decision.

“Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women,” says Serrin Foster, founder and president of Feminists for Life.

Unfortunately, many women ignore International Women’s Day because they equate a passion for women’s rights with the “pro-choice” agenda.

“The myth that to be a feminist is to be pro-choice has forced many women to resign from the name of feminism, to settle back bruised into the silence of the margins,” says the President of the Republic of Ireland, Mary McAleese.

I, for one, refuse to choose.

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