7th April 2020
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UNFPA/Bruno Feder

It was mother’s day yesterday 13 May, 2019 in some countries and this is an opportunity to highlight the different ways motherhood has changed over the years. Read how:

1. Women are less likely to die while becoming mothers

Over the last quarter century, maternal mortality has fallen by 40 per cent. It has been a massive achievement – but one that falls far short of global goals. Today, the maternal mortality ratio stands at 216 deaths per 100,000 live births. This is more than 800 women dying every day while giving life. However, most of these deaths are preventable. 

2. More women are entering motherhood under the care of a skilled birth attendant, such as a midwife.

One key reason maternal deaths are declining is that more women are receiving skilled midwifery care. Skilled birth attendance has increased from 67 per cent in 2010 to 79 per cent in 2017. Still, there is a long way to go. Some 30 million women do not give birth in a health facility and 45 million receive inadequate antenatal care. 

3. Women are more likely to become mothers by choice, not chance.

In the past 25 years, contraceptive prevalence increased by 25 per cent. Unintended pregnancies declined 16 per cent. These numbers represent a transformation in women’s rights and health. When women are empowered to choose for themselves when and whether to have children, they are better able to pursue their educations and aspirations. 

4. Women are having fewer children

Despite these gains, many women still do not exercise full control over their own bodies and reproduction. Today, more than 200 million women around the world want to avoid pregnancy but are not using safe and effective modern contraception. 

Twenty-five years ago, the global average fertility rate was 2.9 births per woman. Today, it has fallen to an average of 2.5, and this decline is expected to continue.  These changes reflect “the increasing realization of reproductive choice, whereby more women and couples are able to decide the number, spacing and timing of their children,” said a recent report of the UN Secretary-General.

Source: UN photo/Tobin Jones, 2017

5. Women are less likely to become mothers while still teenagers

Motherhood, on average, starts later than it used to. This change is reflected in a decline in the global adolescent birth rate.  In 1994, the birth rate among adolescents – girls aged 15 to 19 – was 65 births per 1,000 women. Today, that number is 44 births per 1,000 women. This has been a major achievement for the health and rights of women and girls. Early pregnancy is devastating for a girl’s welfare and life prospects. Teen mothers are less likely to complete their educations or find jobs. They are more vulnerable to poverty and exclusion, and their health is more fragile. In fact, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls. Though rates of adolescent pregnancy have fallen, they remain high in many parts of the world, particularly areas where access to contraceptives is low and rates of child marriage are high.

6. Traumatic childbirth injuries – like obstetric fistula – are being recognized as a major health issue

Even though maternal health care has improved, pregnancy and childbirth remain risky for many women around the world. For every woman who dies in childbirth, an estimated 20 to 30 encounter injuries, infections or disabilities. One of the most serious childbirth injuries is obstetric fistula – a hole in the birth canal that can develop during a prolonged, obstructed labour. Its impact on women is catastrophic. Fistula survivors often experience incontinence, chronic medical problems and social isolation. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of women in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Arab region, and Latin America and the Caribbean are living with fistula, with countless new cases developing every year.

Yet this condition is almost entirely preventable when women have access to timely, high-quality medical care – in particular Caesarean sections. It persists largely because health systems are failing to protect the health and human rights of the poorest and most vulnerable women and girls.

7. The unequal domestic burden borne by mothers (and other women caregivers) has decreased – but only by seven minutes 

Over the past 25 years, time-use research has revealed a massive gender imbalance in unpaid domestic work, including childcare and eldercare. These inequalities persist even when women work equal hours outside the home. On average, women spend about three times more on childcare and other domestic labour than men, according to the International Labour Organization. In 23 countries where data are available, men’s share of unpaid care work has increased in recent decades – but not by much. Between 1997 and 2012, the gender gap in time spent on unpaid care declined by only seven minutes per day.  “At this pace, it will take 210 years (i.e. until 2228) to close the gender gap in unpaid care work in these countries,” the ILO said in a 2018 report. This disproportionate burden diminishes the time available for women to spend on paid work and other pursuits. For too many women, having a child means leaving the workforce to carry the load at home. 

Feature Image: UNFPA & Bruno Feder

Original full article appeared in the United Nations Population Fund Blog

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