The following was produced in partnership with our friends at Johnson & Johnson.
Last week, Johnson & Johnson and The United Nations Foundation hosted its Moms+Social Good summit, a day-long conference that officially kicks of the Global Moms Relay. The relay is a 6-week effort to raise awareness and resources for a variety of nonprofits working to improve the lives of women and children around the world; the summit is powerhouse program of panels and presentations by health care and policy experts, celebrities, activists and parents. It’s a day-long conversation about global issues that affect families everywhere, and trying to summarize all the insights and ideas that came up is a fool’s errand, but here goes …
Nine Of 10 U.S. Moms are Optimistic. Sort Of.
Save the Children President Carolyn Miles kicked off the event by citing her organization’s annual survey on motherhood. The survey’s results were, frankly, bleak: 53 percent of the 1,000 moms surveyed said the United States is becoming a worse place to raise kids, 55 percent of them live paycheck to paycheck, and two-thirds believe their kids are not as safe as today’s parents were when they were young. In spite of all that, 90 percent of surveyed moms are optimistic about their kids’ long-term prospects, which makes you wonder if that word means what they think it means.
The Internet Alone Can’t Save Anything
Alaa Murabit, a Libyan activist who champions the role women can play in peace processes and conflict resolution, reminded the room that access to technology alone won’t necessarily be a game changer, because “social media can be used negatively or positively.” There also has to be work on the ground, she said, “because in the vast majority of the world, the internet is not available, and the people it gets to the least are women. Work has to be done in schools and hospitals around the world. We can’t expect if we click something, something will magically appear.”
Girl Up, Speak Up
Amy Gong Liu, teen advisor to the UN Foundation’s Girl Up initiative, talked about the societal expectation young girls face to apologize for being assertive or besting their male peers athletically or academically. If you have a daughter, go ahead and commit Gong Liu’s words to memory and quote her verbatim (and loudly) the next time she seems insecure: “Instead of speaking softer, speak up. This is our time. We don’t have to be sorry about things we know we’re doing right.”
Contextualizing Syria For Kids
Dan Baker of the UN Population Fund rattled off some alarming stats regarding domestic violence and child marriages among Syrians: 67 percent of Syrian women reported some form of punishment by their husbands; 80 percent of that punishment was physical; 31 percent of marriages involved girls younger than 18. The humanitarian crisis also was given a voice and a face, that of 7-year-old Syrian refugee Malak. If your kids have questions about the Syrian refugee crisis you can show them Malak’s story, which is part of a series of UNICEF-produced shorts called Unfairy Tales that animated the stories of Syrian children. Just be prepared to cry in front of them.
Contraception Is Still A (Huge) Issue
Just about everyone spoke to a universal need for women to achieve equality and gain access — equality of opportunity for things like education and professional advancement, and access to fundamental things like healthcare and security. But no one made the case for access better than Leith Greenslade of the social advocacy organization, Just Actions, and she meant access to one thing in particular: contraception and family planning. More than anything, she argued that women need the freedom to decide, “if she wants to become a mother, when she becomes a mother, how many times she wants to become a mother. [Contraception is] the issue of our times.”
The Power Of Educating Girls
Greenslade also had an important message about education. Since the implementation of the UN’s Millennial Development Goals in 2000, about 6 million child deaths were prevented over the past 15 years. Of those prevented deaths, Greenslade said, 3 million could be attributed to an increase in education of the mothers. “Educating girls, and then women – it’s a lifelong thing – has a powerful transformative effect,” Greenslade said. “Not just on mom’s life, but on every child she has. And then that can trigger generational progress.”
The Power Of Educating Boys
One more chunk of knowledge from the brilliant Murabit, who explained why young boys should not be forgotten in the conversation about education: “We talk about formal education and grade-school education, and that’s wonderful,” Murabit said. “But we also need to be talking about cultural education, and what we teach young men about masculinity and femininity. … And unfortunately, we short-change young boys a lot in every part of the world. We can’t anticipate that our treatment of women will change if our treatment of men doesn’t change, as well.”