By Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin
My mother was a remarkable woman. A great entrepreneur, and an excellent wife to my father, who was a She understood that each one of us must live a productive life and contribute to society, and she insisted that we go to school, work hard and do our very best.
She believed that as a woman she had rights, and she knew that women had to be empowered if lives were to be saved and if families and communities were to thrive. She—and my father—instilled those ideas in all of us. I know my mother was not the only one to demonstrate such values. So many mothers, including my wife, are role models to their families and communities. I want to take the opportunity of Mother’s Day to encourage everyone to remember and honour not only their own mother, but all mothers. Like many other women in our community, my mother was able to space our births, leaving at least two years between children. She also gave birth safely in the hands of skilled personnel at a maternity clinic around the corner from our house in the village of Ijebu-Igbo in southwest Nigeria.
That was not the norm back then—and in many places of the world, it still isn’t. The challenges of pregnancy and childbirth threaten women’s lives every single day. In Sri Lanka, though very few women today die during pregnancy or childbirth, we should do everything we can to make sure no woman dies giving life. In Sri Lanka, maternal deaths are low, with about 37 deaths occurring for every 100,000 births and almost 99 percent of births are attended by a skilled health worker. But imagine what it’s like to be a mother in a least developed country, where 600 women die for every 100,000 live births. Many births also result in debilitating injuries, such as obstetric fistula, which can often be prevented when births are assisted by a midwife or in a health facility that has the right equipment and staff to handle a complicated delivery. It is well known what needs to be done to keep women alive and healthy.
On this Mother’s day let’s all pledge to do our utmost to make maternal death and inequality a thing of the past. Let’s make motherhood safe. Let’s make our mothers proud. Although my mother died in her 80th year, I still feel her presence and wish she could see me now, heading UNFPA, a United Nations agency that is helping ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled in more than 150 countries. I know she’d be pleased. But she’d also want me to be humble. She’d say that providence has put me here to accomplish an important mission in the world, and I promise I will do my very best.