Global Mama

Pro choice feminists in Sao Paulo Women’s History Month should be a time of celebration.  Sadly, when it comes to maternal health, there’s not a lot to celebrate this year.

Just one year ago, this wasn’t the case. In April 2010, maternal health was making headlines—with an encouraging story.  Research published in the medical journal The Lancet found glimmers of hope in the downward direction of the global maternal mortality rate.  Though certain parts of the world had experienced rising maternal mortality rates (including eastern and southern Africa, due to HIV-AIDS), the overall picture looked promising.  These trends were supported by data in another report, Trends in Maternal Mortality, researched and written by the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fun, the United Nations Population Fund, and the World Bank, which found that the number of women who died due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth had decreased by 34% between 1990 and 2008.

In 2011, the Republican budget in Congress is targeting women’s health programs at home and abroad for deep cuts, with serious consequences for mothers and children.  How much money will these proposals actually save, and at what cost to the lives of women and girls?

Let’s revisit recent history.  In 2000, world leaders came together at the UN to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which identified eight anti-poverty goals to be accomplished by 2015.  The fifth goal was maternal health: to reduce by 75% the maternal mortality rate, and to achieve universal access to reproductive health.  In 2010, while much work remained to be done, the data suggested that most maternal deaths can be prevented, and that the safe motherhood movement was truly making an impact.  Celebratory headlines in newspapers like the one in The New York Times declared “Maternal Deaths Decline Sharply Across the Globe.”  This article quoted The Lancet’s editor, Dr. Horton, explaining that the data should “encourage politicians to spend more on pregnancy-related health matters”:

The data dispelled the belief that the statistics had been stuck in one dismal place for decades, he said.  So money allocated to women’s health is actually accomplishing something, he said, and governments are not throwing good money after bad.

At the same time, U.S. activists were becoming increasingly alarmed at rising domestic death rates.  Amnesty International issued a report, Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the U.S.A., that raised concerns about the two-decade upward trend in the numbers of preventable maternal deaths.  Amnesty International observed that “women in the USA have a higher risk of dying of pregnancy-related complications than those in 49 other countries, including Kuwait, Bulgaria, and South Korea” and called for a legislative agenda that made maternal health a priority.

Who could have guessed that one year later, we would be retreating even further from making maternal health a priority?

Most of us know about the proposed cuts to Planned Parenthood, which provides a wide array of sexual and reproductive health services to women, many of whom cannot afford to go elsewhere.  Proposed slashes in funding to global women’s health are just as serious.  Ms. blogger Anushay Hossain explains what’s on the chopping block globally, and why this is such a big deal:

House Republicans not only proposed to cut U.S. assistance to international family planning funding, they also want to completely zero out any funds going to the United Nations Population Fund, or UNFPA, the largest multilateral source of reproductive-health assistance in the world. The U.S. currently provides 22 percent of the UN’s overall budget, and UNFPA is the only agency within the UN that focuses on reproductive health.

At the recently concluded 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the new Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, listed the three main challenges we must face in order to improve maternal health globally: empowering women and girls to claim their rights, “including the right to sexual and reproductive health”; strengthening health services everywhere “to deliver an integrated package of sexual and reproductive health services”; and ensuring “adequate financing.”  He also spoke about girls’ education as “the most important intervention to avoid maternal deaths.”  I was inspired to read UNFPA’s mission, which reflects an understanding of health in the context of human rights and equality:

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity.  UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.

This struck me as fairly comprehensive and visionary.  Yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen this picture of UNFPA in the mainstream U.S. media.  Nor have I seen the following question asked—or answered: how might the proposed cuts affect maternal mortality rates, at home and globally?  I would also like to see politicians address this issue.  I was glad to see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton detail the devastating effects of the elimination of funding to UNFPA; her testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Relations is posted on Feministing.  She observed that the quality of women’s health and empowerment in the developing world not only has an effect on their families and their communities, but also on our own security: “This is not just what we fail now to do for others.  It’s how that will come back and affect our own health here at home.”

As one of the truisms of globalization goes, we’re all connected.  Indeed—the security of women everywhere appears to be threatened by the proposed cuts and policies in the U.S. Congress.

Happy International Women’s Day.

Image via Wikipedia Commons.

It’s my deep pleasure to introduce Andrea Doucet, who is a guest contributor for Global Mama this month. Andrea is Professor of Sociology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She is the author of the award-winning book Do Men Mother? and is currently completing research for her book, tentatively titled The Bread and Roses Project: Breadwinning Moms and the New ‘Problem with No Name’. She is delighted to be a contributor to Girl with Pen. (And we are delighted to have her!)

Are Dads Facing Discrimination at the Playground?

Are men being kicked out of playgrounds? Are dads facing playground or playgroup discrimination? These questions, and some answers, were floating on the blogosphere and twitterverse over the last few weeks. It all started with a conversation between three leading and admired voices in parenting – Dad Labs, Free Range Kids’ Lenore Skenazy, and Jeremy Adam Smith’s Daddy Dialectic – on fear and mistrust of men in public spaces.

The pace with which this discussion unfolded would make any slow-moving scholar’s head spin. A newspaper article, then a blog post, a tweet, the creation of an online survey and voilà: the results were up on Daddy Dialectic and on The New York Times Motherload.

I’ve had a 20-year academic and personal interest in male exclusion and surveillance on the landscapes of parenting, so I followed the discussion with great interest. It speaks to an important social dynamic, one that is largely absent from much of the current thinking on (heterosexual) couples working to reverse traditional gender roles.

Yet, as I sat at my desk, watching the words ‘playground discrimination’ and ‘stay at home dads targeted’ tweeting from my computer, something troubled me.

I think the discussion, thus far, overstates the issue of discrimination. It also underplays change over time and the growing acceptance of fathers in community sites. Playground discrimination? With all due respect to those who blogged and tweeted about this, I disagree. Only 3 fathers (4.5%) who filled in the ‘playground discrimination’ survey were asked to leave a playground.

What about the nearly 25% (18 men) who reported being refused entry to a group setting? We need to know more about why, when and where men were refused entry. Was it direct or implied? Was it in an infant group with breast-feeding moms or a group with older children? Was it recent or 10 years ago? Was the father a new or a long-time caregiver? Did the community know him?

As for the 55% of fathers who indicate that their parenting skills are criticized or corrected in a public setting, this does seem to be a recurring problem, especially for fathers of infants. According to the Daddy Dialectic survey and many recent media articles, fathers who are forced into primary caregiving roles during this man-cession, can still face those ‘looks’ and questions from friends, an elderly neighbor, and the ever-present ‘woman at the grocery store’.

I also see positive changes. Looking back 20 years, many stay-at-home dads and single fathers did face serious discrimination as they tried to navigate through, what one of the fathers in my book Do Men Mother? called ‘estrogen filled worlds’. That was long before daddy blogging and the daddy shift. Today, many caregiving men have the support of their breadwinning partners and/or kin networks, access to amazing dads groups, and an overwhelming litany of online and community resources. Like women who enter work fields dominated by the other gender, men are also actively creating their own networks (often through children’s athletic activities) – and their own playgroups.

Mothers, of course, are also targeted with criticism, although in different ways (which Smith also notes). Some of the breadwinning mothers I’ve recently interviewed avoid those same playgroups that are turning some fathers away.

One of the best examples I’ve seen of radical change in daddy discrimination is a Canadian couple I’ve interviewed several times over the last 10 years. When Richard, a former mechanic, started staying home in 2000, he and his wife Aileen told me that “nobody spoke to him in the playgroups”. He kept going. By 2001, he went to three weekly playgroups as well as a library group. He also began caring for a few children in his home. Yet his desire to open his own day care was continually greeted with disapproval and rejection. The reason: he was male.

After four years of patiently waiting, Richard was finally granted a licence to open his daycare. In 2009, he told me: “The praise that I receive from the parents and the agency personnel and mostly the love I feel from the kids, make this the most satisfying job ever”.

Richard also captures the incredible change for men in community settings along with a subtle reminder that full gender parity on this issue remains a formidable challenge:

“Today my daycare is full with 5 kids and I have 8 kids on my waiting list who want to come to my daycare specifically. But I am not accepted by all. Some parents refuse to have a man as childcare provider. And I can respect that. But to many, it is an alternative they favor.”

Playground and playgroup discrimination, where and when it occurs, is undoubtedly an uncomfortable experience. The Daddy Dialectic’s survey was, according to Smith, meant to be a “catalyst for conversation”. I want to add a few questions to this ‘daddy discrimination’ conversation: What key changes are fathers observing on this issue over time in their own communities? What is supporting or inhibiting that change? What challenges remain, where and why? What can mothers, fathers, community organizations, policy activists and feminist scholars do to help facilitate more father-inclusion? Is it reasonable to accept some women-only, as well as men-only, spaces when it comes to caregiving?

Please go read the moving post Deborah Siegel put up over at She Writes, “Words for the Littlest Victim.”  Read what others are saying, and post your own thoughts if you are so inclined.

I was going to write about Christina Taylor Green earlier today, but I’m a little relieved I didn’t, as Deborah did way more justice to the topic.  Christina is the latest victim of gun violence in a nation, and a world, in which too many children die. At the core of my feminism is the vision of a world where peace reigns, where children can thrive and grow to the fullest of their potential.  A world where we live a politics of peace.  In our country, but also in all the countries that struggle with the violence and weapons that have proliferated beyond reason.  How can we come together to make this vision a reality?

As many of you have noticed, Global Mama has been on vacation.  It wasn’t really a planned vacation, more of a hiatus in a busy life.  But she’s back!

Truth is, I have been off doing other things this past semester.  For one, I had the privilege of being on pre-tenure leave from my teaching job, and boy oh boy, did I have some projects to work on.  And I did get a lot of work done.  Of course, not everything I might have wanted!  But then again, I never do.

You see, I tend to have big eyes.  I dream up projects and get terribly excited about them and then, somewhere between making dinner and driving my kids to ice hockey and working full-time and sitting down to a long conversation with my husband and trying to squeeze in phone calls to dear friends, I realize that I simply don’t have enough time.

In the past, I have compensated with one of two methods: not sleeping at night, and working during the weekends.  Frankly, #1 makes me irritable and cranky (I am a solid 9-hour-a-night sleeper) and #2 is no longer acceptable.  Weekends are for play, and my kids are no longer babies who take long naps and simply come along for the ride.  They can play by themselves and with their friends, sure, but it also turns out that we are a high-energy family who likes to go places and take hikes and play sports and spend time with one another.  Which means that working during the weekend not only makes everyone else (most of all my husband) irritated—it makes me cranky and feeling like I am missing out on all the fun.

So I made a very conscious decision to live my life with balance this past fall, and guess what?  I did.  I worked, but I also played.  I wrote in my journal.  I read books that have been on my reading list for years.  I took Spanish lessons so that I could help my daughter with her homework (she’s in a dual-language program, a topic that I wrote about here).  I went to all of the school events: the Halloween parade, the winter concert, the gingerbread house art day.  I even (horrors) found myself on a school committee.

During the (unseasonably cold) first- and second-grade Halloween parade (I think the weather was hovering around 40 degrees), which consisted of the kids walking around the concrete parking lot in costume while the middle school band played what they had managed to learn in two months of school (the same medley, over and over…), my daughter giggled the entire time.  This despite the fact that we had rejected her idea of bringing a light saber to the parade (per the school’s detailed Parade Instruction Note).  Even without her weapon of choice, she proudly strutted around, showing off her paper-thin Luke Skywalker costume.  (Her flourish had been to pull her hair back into a low ponytail, so that she looked just like a boy.)

I turned to another parent and asked, “Do they always hold the parade on Friday?”  And when she nodded yes, I realized: this was the first time I had made it.  I had missed, all those other years, because I had been at work.  I suddenly felt empty and hollow inside.  I promised myself not to miss the next one.

Now, before I get too sentimental, I will also say that as I walked to my car, wishing I had remembered to wear a hat, I was thinking about a couple of other things.  For one, being a mom who obsessively worries, I could not help but wonder: how many kids will get sick after parading around for so long in their flimsy costumes?  For another, what about all the parents who have no job flexibility to attend a Halloween parade on a Friday morning?  A lot of middle- and working-class families live in our school district, a lot of them Spanish-speaking, many of them recent immigrants who are working very hard simply to survive.  (In fact, a lot of families are working very hard simply to survive.)  Should we really be holding all of these events that many parents can’t attend?  They are, after all, fairly impractical and, from an adult perspective, unnecessary.

This last semester taught me something else, though: having fun is really, really important.  Kids need to play, and you know what?  Adults do, too.  (And based on all my reading this semester, I might even argue that art is a sophisticated form of adult play… but that’s for another day!)

So I have also promised myself to keep the spirit of play alive, as I go back to the classroom this semester.  Maybe I can’t require my college students to parade around in costume, but I can certainly work on figuring out ways of keeping it fun for all of us.


1. A morning spent reading the newspaper and drinking coffee without constant interruption from the kids.

2. A newspaper filled with stories about the new global peace: no environmental disasters, no bombs exploding, no torture, no hate crimes, no war.

3. A house overflowing with peace (no screaming fights over Lego pieces, etc.).

4. Clean dishes. Even after pancakes.

5. Phone call from father-in-law acknowledging that nearly 20 years of political conversations have resulted in his conversion on certain points, such as the need for nationwide family-friendly policies (affordable childcare, paid parental leave, flexible work/life policies, universal healthcare, etc.).

6. A country with the political will to pass policies such as the ones listed above.

7. A world in which being born a girl is not a risk factor for malnourishment, hunger, neglect, discrimination, poverty, abuse, sexual violence, forced labor, trafficking, or death.

8. A world in which social inequalities are shrinking, and progress is being made toward the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

9. Sufficient time to play with kids, talk with husband and friends, and care for self (read, exercise, shower, write in journal, and meditate).

10. Ability to do the above with a sense of abundance instead of stress.

And, last but not least:

11. No BlackBerry or iPhone. All day.

Yesterday I participated in a Women’s Studies Quarterly Symposium on their recent Mother issue. Among the many excellent talks and readings, I was particularly struck by a talk given by Tamara Mose Brown, a sociologist at Brooklyn College and author of the forthcoming book Raising Brooklyn: Nannies, Childcare, and Caribbeans Creating Community (NYU Press, Dec. 2010). Dr. Brown discussed her own experiences as a graduate student and mother of West Indian decent researching West Indian childcare providers in Brooklyn’s public parks (as well as some of the reflections of her WSQ co-author, Erynn Masi de Casanova). In her talk, she reflected on how her subjects defined motherhood, and how they viewed her–she was clearly identified as a mother, since she often brought her son with her to the parks–as well as how she tried to deal with their expectations of how she should be mothering.

Because many of these childcare workers were also mothers, they viewed themselves as “expert” mothers and frequently gave her “lessons” about good West Indian mothering. As she writes in her WSQ article, these lessons included ideas about what was “expected behavior for a boy”–such as the expectation that boys should not play with strollers or wear dresses. Although she herself did not subscribe to this view of gender roles, she found herself watching her son more closely when she was doing research at the park, to make sure he did not wander over to a stroller. Subconsciously, she found herself seeking the approval of her subjects.

Her story resonated with me, a working mother who relies upon a Latina babysitter, L., to care for her children when my husband and I are at work. I like to think that in most ways I consider L. a co-parent as well as an employee. After all, I trust her with my kids; I trust her judgment and her ability to help us raise our children. Her daughter is much older than my kids (now in the dreaded teen years!) and L. has worked in a school, so she is “ahead” of me in this mothering job and thus an expert in ways that I’m not. And yet, I don’t consult her about certain ways that we’re raising our kids that may differ from what she herself has done. She’s very discreet, but I wonder what she thinks about some things.

For example, I’ve frequently wondered what L., a devout Catholic, thinks about the fact that we are raising our kids as non-baptized, non-Communion-participating Unitarian Universalists. Or what she thinks about the fact that my 3-year-old son loves to play with princesses more than my 6-year-old daughter. In general, I suspect she’s OK with all this; she’s tolerant to the core. And yet, precisely because she cares deeply for our kids, I do sometimes wonder whether she sometimes views our parenting choices as ones that aren’t quite right for our children.

I suspect that we might get a free pass on these issues; but I also wonder what L. thinks of the fact that I work. Dr. Brown noted that the West Indian childcare workers had very definite ideas about what defines a good mother and had this to say about their employers:

Motherhood means that you feed your children, you bathe your children, and you spend time with your children. These mothers go to work and don’t do anything for their children and then want the sitters or nannies to do everything; that’s not motherhood. See, you want to be with your children, feed them, give them a bath to be with them; that is a good mother.

— Child care provider in Brooklyn, New York, 2007 (Mose Brown and Masi de Casanova, “Mothers in the Field,” WSQ 37.3, 4)

When I heard this quote yesterday, it struck to the core of my anxieties! I don’t bathe and feed my children every day; most days, yes, but certainly not every day. It brought up the ages-old guilt about working, as well as the familiar anger: why do mothers still carry this burden? Why do they carry it alone? Why don’t we question the fatherhood of fathers when they are at work? For that matter, why don’t we question the absence of flexible work-life policies, not to mention childcare, at many of our workplaces? the absence of a national response to working families that might go a long way toward enabling mothers and fathers to work and parent? the frequent absence of childcare workers and their own families in these debates about work and family?

After all these anxieties subsided, I began to think about the historical, invisible, and yet very real forces that have created generations of West Indian nannies, caring for white children; and I began to think that one response, one way of finding self-empowerment and agency if you find yourself in this situation, might be to embrace the identity of expert mother who spends time with the children. There is some truth, after all, in what that West Indian childcare provider says. Not the idea that working mothers aren’t mothers, but the fact that there are probably some employers who ask a lot from their nannies. I am speaking here from experience: when you have a demanding job, and you have a babysitter, it’s hard not to ask. There are days when, exhausted from teaching and meetings all day, I really don’t want to come home and be a mother. On these days, while I am grateful to all that L. has already done, and even though I know that it’s my turn, I wish that she could stay. But L. has her own family to go home to, no doubt exhausted from mothering my kids, and perhaps even sometimes reluctant, herself, to contemplate the evening’s work ahead at her house.

More often than not, this is when the TV seduces me with its nearly impossible-to-refuse offer: Kids entertained! Peace and quiet! No 1,001 demands while I’m trying to make dinner!

But sometimes, too, I start talking with my kids, and they tell me about the adventures of their day, and they blow me away with their ideas, and they make me laugh with their wacky and idiosyncratic knock-knock jokes–and I realize that this is the best moment of my day.

As I write this, I also realize that having the resources to hire a nanny, babysitter, or other childcare worker is just that–a privilege–and while this relationship is quite accurately described as employer and employee, it’s simultaneously a unique kind of relationship whereby the employee can become part of the family. And with family, as we all know, comes opinions and ideas about how we should live our lives and how we should parent, not always reflecting the deeply-held decisions we’ve forged for ourselves and our kids.

Alas, it was snowed out last month… but it has been rescheduled for this Wednesday, March 31 at the CUNY Graduate Center. This time around, I’ll be talking about mothering across borders in a couple of recent films in addition to interviewing writer Amy Sohn. Other participants include Meena Alexander, Leah Souffrant, Stephanie Cleveland and others, in addition to organizers Pamela Stone and Nicole Cooley, who edited the Mother issue of Women’s Studies Quarterly.

Check out the program here.

International Women’s Day has its roots in the labor movement and the early 20th-century international women’s rights movement. The UN has a nice site about International Women’s Day here. This year also marks the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the groundbreaking Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which has spurred much activity among women’s rights activists globally and is currently under review at the UN.

This mama would have loved to have told you all about the goings-on at the UN, since I had been planning on attending some of the panels this past week; instead, I’ve been dealing with an issue that has left me housebound (when I’m not at the doctor’s office) and caring for my little ones: stomach flu!

So, instead of fabulously interesting insights (and no doubt plenty of bureaucratic speak) from inside the UN, I will leave you with the following call for submissions: an anthology about Globalized Motherhood! The deadline for submission is June 1, 2010.

Globalized Motherhood: a Short Story Collection

Editor: Wendy Chavkin MD, MPH

Publisher: Feminist Press at City University of New York

Debby lives on Manhattan’s upper West side. She is the 41 year old mother of 4 month old twins conceived via a Hungarian IVF clinic, and of 3 year old Lindsay, adopted from a Chinese orphanage at 11 months of age.

Basha lost her job in Poland when she became pregnant and could not find another. So she left her 7 month old son with her grandmother and left Poland. She now works off the books as a nanny in London for Gemma and Erik who have a 2 year old.

Gita lives outside of Bangalore and is the married mother of two. She has never had a Pap test. She is undergoing hormonal stimulation of ovulation so that she can donate ova to her sister who has not become pregnant in five years of marriage.

These stories signify a world in flux about the most intimate of human connections, a world wide open to a host of possibilities for reconfiguring family and parenthood, and perhaps of liberating women from the constraints of reproductive biology. The physical, emotional and caring aspects of motherhood are separable in new ways, pushed by demographic shifts, bio-technological innovations and global travel of babies, women, body parts, information, and technologies.

This is a call for submission of literary works: contemporary short stories, memoirs, and creative nonfiction that convey the transformation of motherhood in the globalized moment. Short fiction and creative non-fiction offer the chance to illuminate these experiences and to vividly present the voices of those affected. We are looking for short stories and memoirs primarily in English, although it may be possible to translate some works; previously published work is welcome.

We are particularly, but not solely, interested in the inter-relationship of transnational adoption, “reproductive tourism” (transnational travel for treatment, gametes or uteri) and women’s migration to do nanny work, which together comprise the globalization of motherhood.

This will be an anthology directed at a general audience for whom the issue of motherhood-in-flux particularly resonates: those adopting and relinquishing babies; those traveling to obtain IVF, ova or “surrogates” and those selling body parts and services; those dependent on and ambivalent towards nannies caring for their children and those working as nannies who have left their own children and home behind.

Please submit to:

Wendy Chavkin: wc9 at

Gloria Jacobs: GJacobs at

For anyone in NYC this coming Friday, February 26: Women’s Studies Quarterly is hosting a day-long conference at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in honor of its Mother issue, featuring scholarship, poetry, and prose on mothers, mothering, and motherhood. Participants include Andrea O’Reilly, Meena Alexander, Miranda Field, Pamela Stone, Nicole Cooley, and many others. I’ll be talking with novelist Amy Sohn about “mommy lit” and her novel Prospect Park West over lunch. Hope to see you there!

It’s my pleasure to introduce guest columnist: Valerie A. Young. Valerie is Advocacy Coordinator for the National Association of Mothers’ Centers (NAMC) and the MOTHERS Initiative. She blogs at Your (Wo)Man in Washington Blog. Welcome, Valerie!

Gender-Responsive Aid in Haiti

The push continues to get food to the people of Haiti. Distribution efforts are often hampered by unrest and chaos when thousands of starving people compete to get their hands on something to eat. The Washington Post reports that local authorities are now implementing a coupon system, directed to women and girls, who demonstrate less aggression and are more likely to share the food with others, including the young, elderly, or disabled, instead of selling it. As the primary caregivers for family members, women are particularly well situated to get more food to more people in their homes and neighborhoods, in less time and with less conflict.

Previous posts in this space have noted the gender-specific needs of women and girls, especially following crises that exacerbate their pre-existing vulnerability. In Haiti, sexual violence, poverty, hunger, and disease were already destroying the lives of women before the earthquake. Aid targeted to these populations, it is argued, is more effective for women and girls, and benefits the wider community as well, rather than coming at the expense of men. However, in addition to being a specific target for aid, the particular position of women renders them more effective as the conduit for relief, as aid organizers are now discovering.

This isn’t the first time international aid organizers have harnessed the power of the “girl effect,” the phenomenon of targeting aid to adolescent girls who start a chain reaction, multiplying the effect and reach of the initial investment by passing it on. For example, if a girl has an income, she will reinvest nearly all of it for the benefit of her family. If a girl has a goat, she will sell the milk, send her children to school, breed more goats, hire others to care for the herd and sell the milk, and so on. Disaster zones around the world have begun to focus on women’s ability to maximize and enhance relief operations. Countries funneling aid to the developing world, including the United States, are implementing the practice as well, as is evident from the numerous mentions made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Further proof is documented in the work of Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools. If a girl in the developing world receives at least 7 years of education, she will be older when she marries, bear fewer children, increase her earning power, and have healthier children. She is less likely to be beaten by her husband, less likely to die in childbirth, and more likely to be capable of supporting herself economically. There is a growing consensus that women may be the most effective agents of change on the planet, due to their ability to multiply the value of a resource and their willingness to share it with others.

The conclusion that women in the developed world must also be capable of transformative change cannot be far behind. After all, the girl effect arises from gender, not geography. Why aren’t women in the industrialized world also seen as offering exponential opportunity for optimizing human potential, sharing responsibility for governing, producing, educating, caring, healing, and leading? The impediments that exist, which make mothers more likely to live in poverty, and women more likely to work in low-paying jobs, cannot be the result of our lesser capacity or inferior potential. They cannot be the natural consequence of an inescapable truth of innate gender disparity. If the girl effect is true (and it seems more than amply supported by the evidence), then maternal poverty and women’s limited representation in certain aspects of society can only be the result of artificial distinctions, man-made barriers, and social constructs put in place and continually reinforced by learned behavior… which can be unlearned, with intentional, deliberate, and informed action. Distributing food aid via women, reducing violence and aggression, and getting more food to more people in less time following a disaster is precisely what such action looks like.