The Progress of Nations: Women

The impact on children

The article on these pages deliberately concentrates on women as women, rather than women as protectors of children. But the implications for children are too significant to be omitted.

About half of infant deaths occur in the first month of life – and most of those in the first week. Those lives can only be saved by clean and safe births, maintenance of body temperature, initiation of spontaneous breathing, and an almost immediate beginning of breastfeeding. This comes down to the availability of the right skills and care in pregnancy and childbirth. There is therefore a significant overlap between the action needed to protect women and the action needed to protect newborns.

An even more obvious implication is that the 585,000 women who die each year in childbirth leave behind them at least a million motherless children. The physical and emotional cost is immeasurable. But it is hinted at by one study in Bangladesh showing very significant differences in the survival rates of children with and without mothers (particularly for girls).

"There is great reluctance to mention these benefits for millions of children," writes Carla AbouZahr of WHO, "because of a fear that remembering the infant somehow distracts from the needs of the mother. But this argument must come from those who have never given birth to a child and watched it die, never gone through nine months of waiting and anxiety only to see their hopes snatched away at the last moment. Most women want their babies, and few things are more important to them than that their children should live and be healthy. Has anyone ever tried to evaluate the suffering of the millions of women whose infants die?"

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