The Price of Motherhood
In those days Mary set out and went with hast to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” —Luke 1:39-45
I am thinking about mothers in this time of advent, particularly of Elizabeth, surprised to be bearing a child in her old age, and Mary, surprised to be bearing a child at all! As I do, I am also thinking about other mothers around the world. In December we not only celebrate Advent but we also observe 16 Days of Activism Against Violence (November 25–December 10), International Human Rights Day (December 10) and International Migrant Rights Day (December 18). In these commemorative days, the rights and well-being of millions of migrant women around the world come into focus.
- A Filipina domestic worker has a permit to work in Israel. She falls in love with another Filipino contract worker and becomes pregnant. By contract, she is not allowed to marry another migrant, nor is she allowed to have a child if she wants to keep her job. Her family in the Philippines depends on her income. Agonizing over her terrible choices, she sends her three-month-old baby back to the Philippines to her family and keeps her job raising someone else’s children.
- A Mexican migrant living in Tennessee is pulled over by the police while driving and taken to jail when the officer discovered that she does not have a valid driver’s license and is undocumented. She is pregnant and near term. She is sent to prison, where she goes into labor. Her ankles are cuffed together on the ride to the hospital. Her hands are tied together during labor. She is shackled to her hospital bed. She gives birth while in custody.
- A Congolese mother’s son, now a young man, cannot afford higher education and cannot find work. Desperate to help feed his family, he makes his way north on the treacherous route toward Europe. He ends up working as a contract laborer in Libya. But when war breaks out, migrant workers are caught in the crossfire. He and hundreds more pile onto rickety boats in the Mediterranean headed for Lampedusa, an island off of Italy. Those who make it languish on the island awaiting asylum applications. Meanwhile, in the Congo, the mother has not heard from her son. She reads that 25 migrants have been found dead on a boat due to overcrowding. She lives in fear that one of them might be her son.
It is because of these realities that five United Methodist Women will travel to Geneva, Switzerland, from November 28–December 2, 2011, to attend the People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights. Our delegation includes women from Sierra Leone and the United States, including a Tongan American.
It is an opportunity to meet with migrant rights advocates from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Western Europe and the United States to advance migrant human rights. While there, United Methodist Women will help lead a workshop on the challenges that undocumented migrant women face and how women are organizing for their human rights. They will explore global migration and poverty with a focus on migrant women.
United Methodist Women will engage in a spiritual growth study on immigration and the Bible in 2012. As follow up, in 2013 they will engage in a yearlong focus on women and global migration. This delegation will help the organization prepare for the spiritual growth study and the work ahead. United Methodist Women has been a strong advocate for migrant women’s rights at the United Nations and in the Global Forum on Migration and Development.
We understand that the concerns migrant women face in the United States are multiplied in the experiences of women around the world. We understand that migration is often not an option but a necessity, rooted in poverty, climate change, violence and war. It is also driven by employers seeking cheap, exploitable labor. Our work, then, is not only to address the immediate needs of migrant women and their families but to change those situations that drive migration.
As we think about the anticipation of motherhood during Advent, we also think of women who face motherhood under very, very difficult circumstances. We pray for them and we affirm that they have the same rights that we claim, despite being poor, despite being brown, despite being from poor countries, despite not having documents. They, too, are children of God, loved by God, who, like us, claim God’s abundant life. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her. May we help it to be so.
Carol Barton is the executive for community action