What would the world look like if every child could go to school?
Imagine a world where new HIV infections are a rarity. Where children have clean water and adequate food. New mothers survive childbirth and go on to raise the next generation, and vulnerable communities cope with climate-related disasters and economic shocks. The poorest countries receive $80 billion each year for development, and parents earn enough to feed their families, build assets and save for the future.
Although it seems a pipe dream, this vision is possible through education. If every child could go to school, our world would be a dramatically changed place. In fact, the second Millennium Development Goal, universal primary education, is the key to achieving all of the MDGs.
The evidence shows that basic education is one of the most cost-effective development interventions and that its impact extends well beyond transforming the lives of individual children. It leads to measurable improvements in economic growth, HIV prevention, nutrition, child and maternal health, and conflict prevention. Consider:
Happy Mother’s Day! And let me be clear: I’m in favor of flowers, lavish brunches, and every other token of gratitude for mothers and other goddesses.
Let me also add that your mom — yes, I’m speaking to you — is particularly deserving. (As is mine, as is my wife. And my mother-in-law!)
And because so many people feel that way, some $14 billion will be spent in the United States for Mother’s Day this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That includes $2.9 billion in meals, $2.5 billion in jewelry and $1.9 billion in flowers.
To put that sum in context, it’s enough to pay for a primary school education for all 60 million girls around the world who aren’t attending school. That would pretty much end female illiteracy.
These numbers are fuzzy and uncertain, but it appears that there would be enough money left over for programs to reduce deaths in childbirth by about three-quarters, saving perhaps 260,000 women’s lives a year.
There would probably even be enough remaining to treat tens of thousands of young women suffering from one of the most terrible things that can happen to a person, a childbirth injury called an obstetric fistula. Fistulas leave women incontinent and dribbling wastes, turning them into pariahs — and the injuries are usually fixable with a $450 operation.
So let’s celebrate Mother’s Day with all the flowers and brunches we can muster: no reason to feel guilty about a dollop of hedonism to compensate for 365 days of maternal toil. But let’s also think about moving the apostrophe so that it becomes not just Mother’s Day, honoring a single mother, but Mothers’ Day — an occasion to try to help other mothers around the globe as well.
Oddly, for a culture that celebrates motherhood, we’ve never been particularly interested in maternal health. The United States ranks 41st in the world in maternal mortality, according to an Amnesty International report, or 37th according to a major new study in the medical journal The Lancet, using different data sources.
Using either set of statistics, an American woman is at least twice as likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as a woman in much of Europe.