Save the Children released a daunting report this week on the status of mothers around the world, detailing the horrific challenges facing mothers in disaster- and war-prone areas like Syria, the Philippines and Democratic Republic of the Congo.
But even the U.S. didn't fare well in the study's rankings for maternal well-being, ranking 31st behind Australia, the Czech Republic and Israel, to name a few.
Among the lowest-ranking countries were Haiti, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia, according to the report. And the best place to be a mom? Finland, which performed highest in all the areas the study measured, including maternal death risk, mortality rate for children younger than 5 years old, expected number of years in school, gross national income, and participation of women in government.
Mothers face extreme challenges in places like the Philippines, where natural disasters occur regularly. The Philippines already ranked low on the Mother's Index, coming in at 105 of 178. But living through recurring typhoons — like typhoon Haiyan in 2013, one of the worst storms to ever hit land — also make aspects of motherhood especially challenging, like childbirth in a disaster zone.
The report cites one Filipino woman forced to give birth on the side of the road three months after the typhoon, because health services in the area had not yet been restored. Midwives in the country report that there is simply "no space for the mother's delivery" and "birth attendants described assisting deliveries without electricity, using flashlights and candles to see in the dark," according to the report.
Mothers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo face special challenges in the midst of a war whose death toll "is equivalent to the 2004 Asian tsunami happening every six months, and at least 20 times greater than the 2010 Haiti earthquake," the report says. The rate of rape and sexual violence has exploded during the war, but women's groups in the country are fighting the surge by providing hospitals specifically for rape victims to provide medical care and prevent the spread of HIV.
Mothers in Syria have also struggled since nearly 1.4 million children and 690,000 women have fled their homes because of civil war. They now live as refugees in neighboring countries, which tests mothers and children particularly, the report says.
"Every day, 185 babies are born to refugees from Syria, and many face daunting odds," according to the report. "In Lebanon, one assessment found 26 percent of women who had given birth since the beginning of the conflict reported a preterm birth. ... In Za'atari camp in Jordan, more than 20 percent of all deaths from October 2012 to September 2013 were newborn deaths."
The report also found that in natural disasters in the U.S., mothers and children suffer most. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, one doctor observed, "After the winds had passed and the water retreated, there was left a dearth of health care in lower Manhattan. ... The underinsured were left with no hospital, no records and little information," as quoted in the report.
But the news isn't all bad. Global companies like Johnson & Johnson and +Social Good have teamed up to improve the situation of moms in dire situations, reported by the Huffington Post, a partner to Johnson & Johnson.
Mothers and political leaders gathered in New York Wednesday at the Moms +Social Good conference. Others joined via social media to discuss the state of mothers around the world and to find solutions to the difficulties facing women and girls. Celebrity speakers included actress Olivia Wilde, ABC news anchor Amy Robach and Elizabeth Smart. Clips of the event are available online.
The event culminated Wednesday, but its cause is still active online with the hashtag #GlobalMoms. Plus, thousands of people are participating in the Global Moms Relay, where anyone can share a story of how their mom changed the world on any social media platform. Each time someone shares a story on each platform, Johnson & Johnson will donate $1 to help moms.
Amy McDonald writes about issues facing the poor. She has a degree in journalism, American studies and international development. She has written for The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah Valley magazine and loves backpacking.