Celebrate mothers as the world’s unsung heroes

In the wake of April’s terrible storms, too many lives have been lost and communities devastated. While Arkansans and our neighbors are all too familiar with the destruction that Mother Nature can leave behind, it never gets easier.

Just ask Cathy Wilson, an amazing grandmother who protected four-year-old Aria with her own body during a tornado hit at a learning center just one year ago. As the wind began to lift Aria from the bathroom floor where they sheltered, Cathy grabbed the little girl’s leg and pulled her back to safety.

In a few days we will celebrate Mother’s Day. When our families gather, we’ll think about how heroic mothers like Cathy become when their families must flee their homes in terror and despair. For love of children, mothers risk and often sacrifice their own lives.

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Yet we are increasingly troubled by statistics showing that in unprecedented emergencies at home and abroad, mothers and children face particularly horrific challenges.

This week, Save the Children released its 15th annual “State of the World’s Mothers” report. The report looks at where mothers fare the best and worst. It shines a light on the more than 60 million women and children living within conflict and catastrophe, offers effective solutions to meet critical needs, and recommends policy improvements.

It reminds us that whether in Mayflower, Arkansas, Tupelo, Mississippi, or Tacloban, Philippines, when a family faces crisis, normalcy is shattered. Children are traumatized and at great risk of physical, emotional, and psychological harm. 

Worldwide, in emergencies women and children are up to 14 times more likely than men to die of injuries and deprivation.  In fact, more than half all maternal and child deaths occur in areas beset by conflicts and natural disasters.

Without a doubt, the statistics are most alarming in developing nations: In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, it is statistically more dangerous to be a woman or child than an armed fighter.

At the same time, here at home, in the 15 years since the first “State of the World’s Mothers” was first released, the United States has fallen in rank from fourth to 31st.

But there are hopeful indicators, even in the most troubled areas of the world.  Afghanistan, which was the worst place to be a mother in 2010 and 2011, actually improved this year—moving up 32 places. 

As we observe Mother’s Day this year, let’s ensure that Afghanistan’s improvements become the norm. Relief workers must have access in conflict areas, so mothers and children can receive adequate food and health care.  Children must be able to go to school, receive uninterrupted care, and have safe places to play. We must advocate for mothers and promote disaster preparedness. We have in Arkansas, and I’m proud that we meet all four minimum standards for having comprehensive emergency plans in place in schools and child care centers as recommended by the National Commission on Children and Disasters.  

But more work remains to be done. Let’s make everyday a day to honor and protect mothers around the world. 

Sen. John Boozman (R.-Ark) has served since 2011.  He previously held a seat as U.S. Representative for the state’s Third District.  He and his wife, Cathy live in Rogers, Arkansas, and have three daughters and one granddaughter. 

Carolyn Miles is the President and CEO of Save the Children. She and her husband, Brendan, live in Fairfield, Connecticut, and have two sons and one daughter.