The Initiative Facts For Life: A Vital Source for Safe Motherhood

According to global statistics, approximately 9 million children die each year before their fifth birthday from completely preventable causes. Those statistics include the three million babies that are stillborn, the one million that die from injuries, and the one and a half million that die from dehydration. The death of even one child is tragic. These deaths are not due to a lack of maternal care, but are often the result of poverty and other environmental factors. The extent of the grief suffered by parents over the loss of these children is almost impossible to fathom. Caring individuals, professionals and volunteers alike, are working to reduce the amount of suffering caused by these needless deaths. Information is one of the most important tools in achieving that goal.
The goal of one project is to make potentially life-saving information available to parents all over the world. To accomplish that goal, Facts for Life, a trusted global resource for parents struggling to keep their children safe, recently published its 4th edition. Previous editions have been translated into more than 215 languages. The quality of maternal care is one of the most important factors in a child’s life. This edition includes all the information based on the most current scientific research and statistics in the fields of medicine and child development most necessary to enable mothers to provide the best maternal care possible.

Facts for Life consists of 14 chapters, each of which is devoted to a topic related to pregnancy, childbirth, and the care and safety of children. Rather than merely presenting statistics, scientific information is presented in language that parents can easily understand. Equally importantly, each chapter ends with a number of concrete actions a parent can take to make their children’s lives safer. Incorporating child safety strategies that have proven to be effective into daily maternal care has saved many lives. Not only has the project improved maternal care, but it has also influenced policy-makers to invest resources into programs that focus on prevention of many of the conditions that threaten children’s lives.

For example, 1.5 million children die each year from dehydration caused by diarrhea, making it the second leading cause of death for children. Diarrhea is often caused by unclean drinking water. While many in the Western world are able to take the basic necessities of life, such as clean drinking water, for granted, parents in other parts of the world must learn how to make drinking water safe. The chapter devoted to protecting children from the potentially deadly effects of diarrhea describes the symptoms and the proper treatment in detail. Further, it educates parents about all the potential causes and provides solutions, such as water purification and personal hygiene, for preventing it. Another chapter addresses malaria, which is still a very real threat in many places in the world.

While some chapters are more relevant to maternal care in the developing world, the majority of them address parenting issues relevant to parents everywhere. The statistics presented in the chapter devoted to child protection are disturbing indeed, which makes the information contained within it all the more important. For example, in 2002, approximately 150 million girls and 73 million boys under the age of 18 experienced rape or some other form of sexual violence. As of 2001, it was estimated that 325,000 children in the United States were at risk for becoming victims of sexual exploitation. The chapter outlines children’s rights and the role of maternal care in helping children safely exercise those rights.

The chapter on emergency preparedness presents useful information about a number of different types of emergencies, from disease epidemics to natural disasters. Sadly, it also includes information about land mines, including places they are often buried, how to identify one, and what emergency medical procedures to initiate in the event that a child steps on one. According to UNICEF, in 2015, war was one of the leading causes of death for children.
Hopefully, the future will include more international projects such as Facts for Life, and war as a cause of death for children will be listed in the category of “preventable”.

maternal care

193.W UFO Beam Illusion

Crushing Illusion of Truth: On Fictional Experts and Imagined Baby Care Guides

“Every group thinks that its way of caring for infants is the obvious, correct, natural way – a simple matter of common sense. However, as the anthropologist Clifford Geertz has pointed out, what we easily call “common sense” is anything but common. Indeed what people accept as common sense in one society may be considered odd, exotic, or even barbaric in another.”

–Judy S. DeLoache and Anna Gottlieb

Psychologist Judy S. DeLoache and anthropologist Anna Gottlieb, both professors in their respective fields, combined their expertise to create a unique and informative book. A World of Babies: Imagine Child Care Guides for Seven Societies presents a series of imagined baby care guides that might have been written by a wise and respected member of each of seven different societies. These guides are written by fictional characters using real information from anthropological studies of those societies. Each of these characters has the best interests of children at heart–and in mind

Imagined Baby Care Guides From Around the World

According to one review of the book, these imagined baby care guides answer a number of questions posed by parents around the world throughout history. The book takes us through history by including the Puritans of New England, as well as around the world, by including the Fulani society of western Africa as well as social life in a village in eastern Turkey. The Walpiri, an aboriginal people of northern Australia are represented, as are the Ifaluk people of Micronesia. The guides address topics such as ways to achieve a successful pregnancy, how often to bathe a baby, and how long to breastfeed. They also include descriptions of the ceremonies surrounding birth specific to each of these cultures.

Impressively, in addition to extensive research of the work of many respected anthropologists, historians and psychologists, the authors also utilize observations from their own field studies. In an article in Scientific American, Ms. DeLoache mentions some of the field work that was included in the book. Making the “authors” of these imagined baby care guides fictional characters reinforces the fact that the book is not intended to advise parents on how to raise their children, but rather, to present information about various child-rearing practices. The result is that readers are able to learn a great deal of about other cultures in a very entertaining way.

Imagined Baby Care Guides Versus “Expert” Baby Care Guides

People have been raising children since long before the first parenting guide was printed. The book clearly illustrates that parenting has always consisted of transmitting cultural traditions developed through generations of experience. In an article about the book, the author expresses the opinion that today’s parenting guides written by “experts” may be the result of the rapid social and technological change experienced by industrialized nations. Increased mobility and the subsequent shift from traditional extended families to the smaller nuclear family has resulted in the loss of many formerly important child-rearing and social traditions developed over time.

The fictional “experts” in the book are respected members of their communities, such as grandmothers and traditional healers. The book has been praised for its attention to ethnographic detail and a way of presenting parenting advice from within a greater social context. Social context includes many elements, including geographic location and climate, religious beliefs, economic circumstances, and political history. Presenting the imagined baby care guides within the context of the greater society allows readers to better understand practices that in the context of their own modern societies, may seem strange indeed.

Today’s “expert” parenting guides often rely more on scientific studies than personal parental experience, although there are some that combine the two. The fact that many of today’s modern societies are more diverse in terms of religious and political beliefs than societies of the past may account for some of the conflicting advice of modern parenting guides. One advantage of learning about child-rearing practices of other cultures through imagined baby care guides is that of gaining other perspectives through which to view our own. Another advantage is the possibility of resurrecting some valuable traditions lost to the faster pace of modern life.

The best possible result of this book is that parents will be not only simultaneously educated and entertained, but encouraged to create new traditions in which they rely more on one another and less on “expert” advice.

imagined baby care
UFO Beam Illusion
family life values

On Nostalgia, Myth and The Way We Never Were

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

–L.P. Hartley

The Changing Face of Family Life Values

Older people can often be heard lamenting the demise of “the good old days” when children respected their elders, adults behaved civilly towards one another, and good manners were a sign of superior child rearing. However, many believe that the good old days were largely a myth, and were only “good” for a small percentage of the population that consisted primarily of white males.

In her book The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, Author Stephanie Coontz attempts to separate the myths surrounding reminiscence of the good old days from the often harsh realities that women and children faced in the past. She points out how phrases such as “a man’s house is his castle” illustrated and perpetuated some of those realities.

In an interview on the topic of marriage and gender equality, Ms. Coontz was asked to elaborate on her statement that while marriage has changed more in the last 30 years than in the past 3,000, some aspects are now less stable. In her opinion, part of the reason that marriage was such a powerful institution was due to its rigidity. The lack of economic alternatives for women coupled with social stigma and discrimination against unmarried women are examples of that rigidity. A strict division of gender roles encouraged mutual dependence based on economic necessity.

Something Old, Something New

Today, economic changes have reduced that necessity, and with it, the stability of family life and values associated with the institution of marriage. Women have higher expectations of equality and are more willing to leave marriages in which they feel mistreated. She also makes the point that despite progress towards equality, in choosing a mate, many women’s attractions are still based on the social conditioning of the past. That conditioning included choosing a mate using criteria such as economic and emotional stability, rather than sexual attraction.

Sexual attraction was often reserved for “bad boys” with an air of mystery, unpredictability, or even danger, qualities that are unlikely to be useful in sustaining family life and values, or even a long-term relationship. Ms. Coontz believes that one of the challenges of reducing the instability of marriage in an age in which women often marry based on attraction is that of making equality sexy.

While marriage is becoming more equal, one of the reasons that it has become more difficult to sustain family life and values is that both men and women still have difficulty giving themselves permission to let go of old social conditioning. Women have been given the message that although they can now have careers, they must also still maintain their attractive femininity and do the majority of household work. Men have been given the message that they are expected to give up economic control and participate more in household chores, but are also still expected to play the role of protector and provider.

The result is an increase in unreasonable expectations surrounding family life and values and more pressure on both genders in relationships. One reviewer of Ms. Coontz’s timely book points out that continuing to believe in a mythical past reality can make us less able to deal with present reality. Nostalgia about mythical good old days can also keep us from both enjoying the very real progress towards equality that has been made, and furthering it.

Furthering Positive Change

In another interview in the Atlantic she cautions against alienating potential allies in the struggle for equality in family life and values by using terms such as “sexist” and “patriarchal” to describe those who knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate inequality. While she acknowledges progress towards equality in terms of men taking on a bigger role in child care and household duties, she believes that structural changes are needed for lasting positive change. Social policies that support family life and values, such as subsidized child care and parental leave, must begin to reflect the reality that most people now want equality in relationships between genders.

Although women in the U.S. have many more career opportunities than women in many other countries, the gap between wage earners is much wider. Due to the lack of a sufficient child care infrastructure, including family leave policies that reflect family life and values, many mothers are forced to leave the work force for several years. The result is that their wages upon returning to the workforce are significantly lower than those of women without children. For a future in which marriage is more mutually satisfying and children are free of the pressure caused by gender stereotypes of the past, the long slow struggle towards equality is well worth our collective continued effort.

family life values
Nostalgia, 1941
Family Values and the Value of Families in the Mescalero Tribe

Family Values and the Value of Families in the Mescalero Tribe

I was no chief and never had been, but because I had been more deeply wronged than others, this honor was conferred upon me, and I resolved to prove worthy of the trust.

–Geronimo

Family Life in the Mescalero Tribe

The Mescaleros are one of several indigenous American peoples who make up the larger Apache Tribe. A nomadic people, the Mescaleros once populated areas in what is now the southwest of the U.S. and Northern Mexico. Today, the Mescalero Tribe, which consists of Mescalero, Lipan, and Chiricahua people, live on a 463,000 acre reservation in the state of New Mexico. What is quite astonishing is that while no longer nomadic, many of the traditions of family life in the Mescalero tribe are still observed today.

Like many other indigenous American societies, Apache society was matrilineal, and both property and lineage were passed on through the mother. In family life in the Mescalero tribe, men who married became members of their wives’ family household. If a husband’s behavior was unacceptable, a woman could divorce him by simply removing his belongings from the house. It was common for several extended families to both travel together and live in close proximity to one another, sharing resources and cooperating when defence became necessary.

Even while traveling throughout family life in the mescalero tribe, married couples maintained their own residences, called wikiups. Women were often responsible for constructing the homes, as well as decorating them. Their homes were constructed of natural materials, including the tanned hides of the animals they hunted for food. In addition to construction work, women also collected agave, nuts, and other vegetables. Many were also hunters of smaller game such as rabbits and antelope, as well as warriors during battles.

While most tasks were carried out by both men and women, men usually designed and made hunting tools and defensive weapons, while women typically designed and made clothing. Great pride was taken in clothing in family life in the Mescadero Tribe, which was often intricately beaded and played an important role in social ceremonies.

Special Ceremonies Celebrating Family life in the Mescadero Tribe

Two special ceremonies were observed for all Apache children. When a baby was old enough to no longer need to be carried on the traditional cradleboard, they were given their first, and often only, haircut by the shaman to bring good luck. At two years of age, in the moccasin ceremony, children were given new shoes and clothes before walking eastward. The purpose of the ceremony was to help the child begin a favorable journey through life.
Grandparents had the important role of teaching young people both practical skills, such as tanning hides, and acceptable cultural behavior. Cooperation was highly valued and children were discouraged from rivalry. The contributions of grandparents was important in family life in the mescalero tribe and grandparents were honored during another important ceremony which marked the passage of young girls into womanhood.

For eight days, the young women wore ceremonial buckskins and refrained from contact with water. The men built a ceremonial tipi while a feast was prepared for a celebration of her success in learning her tribal language and mastering social values such as kindness, good manners, and fortitude. Both a medicine man and a medicine woman participated in saying prayers and advising her concerning the many aspects of her future family life in the Muscadero Tribe. This ceremony is still practiced today.

Religion and Politics in Family Life in the Mescadero Tribe

The center of the religion of the Apache people was a Creator that was neither male or female, but a presence manifested by natural phenomenon such as the sun, wind, and rain. There were also important legendary cultural figures, both male and female, in the form of The Twin War Gods and White Painted Woman.

Politically, the leader of the group was typically male. His leadership was based on his ability to persuade others. However, individuals and families were ultimately free to decide for themselves whether to follow his suggestions. Families or groups that disagreed were also free to leave the group. Today, there is a tribal government separate from that of the U.S. government.

The gender equality of family life in the Muscalero tribe is reflected by the fact that the tribe has already had two female Presidents, while the U.S. has not yet had one female president. In 1959, Virginia Klinekole was elected as the tribe’s first woman president. After her term as president, she was elected to the Tribal Council, where she served until 1986. After the death of popular leader Wendell Chino, who served as president for 43 years, another woman, Sara Misquez was elected.

Parents all over the world continue to teach their children the importance of many aspects of family life in the Muscalero tribe, such as kindness, cooperation and respect for the knowledge and experience of community elders. These values contribute to mutual understanding between all members of the family of man.

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family life in in the Mescalero Tribe
Ta-ayz-slath, wife of Geronimo, and one child, wikipedia commons
parenting style

Struggling Integrity: Media and Middle-class Moms

The Influence of Mass Media on Parenting Style

Media and Middle Class Moms: Images and Realities of Work and Family by Lara J. Descartes and Conrad Kottak raises questions about the extent to which parents, as well as their parenting style, are affected by the media. Peer pressure is often as powerful a force in the adult world as it is in the world of children and adolescents. In a world in which mass media is sponsored by multi-billion dollar corporations millions of those dollars are spent on creating commercials which portray lives in which everyone is able to afford to buy their products.

The degree to which social behavior is influenced by those commercials is beginning to alarm many people. In areas such as fashion and home improvement, the influence that mass media exerts may be relatively harmless other than perhaps increasing family debt. Parents have long struggled with varying degrees of success with having to say no to the often daily requests from children besieged by commercials for toys and fast food. Further, studies have shown that children under eight years of age are unable to understand the difference between advertising and regular programming. That’s one reason the influence of mass media can significantly interfere with a chosen parenting style.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average teen spends seven and a half hours each day utilizing some form of mass media. Of those connected to the internet, 81 percent reported being active on social networking sites. In the past, the home was often a place where teens could escape peer pressure for a time, but the ubiquitous nature of mass media has vastly reduced opportunities for respite. If a child is being bullied at school, that bullying is now able to reach inside the home through the internet. Many parents whose parenting style would otherwise be far more relaxed have had to become hyper-vigilant about their children’s online activities.

Today, mass media such as television is only one form of media with the power to influence parenting style. Social media in the form of Facebook, Twitter, podcasts and personal blogs are becoming increasingly influential as well. One example of how social media can affect parenting style and decision making is presented in an article describing the power of social media to influence parents’ decisions to vaccinate their children against disease.

A study was conducted in an area with a vaccination rate lower than the national average that was experiencing a pertussis epidemic. 196 parents of children younger than 18 months were surveyed in the study. The survey revealed that one group of 126 of the parents followed the recommended vaccination schedule from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The other group consisted of 28 of the parents who delayed vaccines, 37 who refused some of the vaccines, and 5 parents who didn’t vaccinate at all. 95% of parents in both groups indicated that they had consulted their “people network” for insight into making vaccination decisions. The people networks of 72% of those who did not conform to the guidelines had advised them against it.

Another example comes from an article in the Independent. Research from a study of 1,500 teens in Los Angeles showed that teens who saw more pictures of friends engaged in social activities involving alcohol on social media such as Facebook were more likely to participate in drinking themselves.

The Increasing Sphere of Corporate Sponsored Media Influence

In an article in the Guardian in response to the commercialization of the Australian Melbourne Cup, the author describes the horse racing event as “an endless parade of careful, deliberate sponsor messages punctuated by several minutes of horse racing”. It also points out that the line between advertising and real public space is becoming blurred.

The power of corporations and advertising has become such that in 2012 at the London Olympics, corporate sponsors insisted upon “brand exclusion zones“. People were to be forbidden even from wearing clothing depicting the name of a competing brand within the zone. Increasingly, corporations are beginning to resemble oppressive governments in their attempts to control what we see, wear, and do. They are also achieving an alarming measure of success in doing so, partially because of their ability to influence parenting style.

Television can be a valuable educational tool and some children’s programming provides worthwhile lessons in desirable behaviors such as kindness and cooperation as well as focusing on literacy. Others can allow economically disadvantaged children to experience a vicarious trip to a museum or a zoo. However, in addition to the often negative influences of corporate sponsors, excessive television viewing can also prevent the development of other important skills, such as reading and physical activities. Just as parents have had to learn to say no to the many requests from their children to purchase items viewed on mass media, there’s an increasing likelihood that large numbers of parents may begin saying no to mass media itself.

parenting style

maternal penalty

Motherhood as a Status Characteristic and the Maternal Economic Penalty

The motherhood penalty is a phrase coined by sociologists to describe the economic costs for women who become mothers. Research shows that the economic maternal penalty amounts to a 5% decrease in wages per child. Professional women who are mothers make an average of $11,000 per year less than women who do not have children. Men’s wages, in contrast either remain the same or increase when they become fathers. Despite the fact that an increasing number of women are the sole financial support of their children, society has not yet adapted to this reality, and men are still considered to be the primary family wage earners.

In addition to lower wages, women also face the maternal penalty of being viewed as less dependable despite the fact that the very survival of their children is dependent upon their dependability. Equally ironic, they are also viewed as less committed to their jobs because of their commitment to their children. Finally, although motherhood entails setting limits for children as well as disciplining them, mothers are also viewed as less authoritative than women without children. One article points to several studies that demonstrated that mothers were more likely to be discriminated against in the workplace.

Studies have also shown that women face this type of maternal penalty in a number of industrialized nations which include the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Poland and Japan. Sociologists have studied a number of strategies that could be used to address wage inequality and have determined that the best strategy is one in which women aren’t expected to choose between motherhood and a well-paying career.

Reasons for the Maternal Penalty

There are several theories that attempt to explain the reasons for these gender disparities. One of them is the theory that mothers may be less productive at work because they have more responsibilities at home. Another theory is that performance evaluations are biased in favor of high-status groups. According to this theory, motherhood is a “status characteristic”. Experiments confirm that status characteristics, which often include race, educational level, gender and physical appearance are systematically used to determine levels of competence and influence.

The maternal penalty is a form of discrimination that results from stereotyping, or cultural beliefs about the differences between men and women and their proper social roles. Women who break the stereotype are less well liked. For example, if the culture believes that good mothers stay at home with their children, and good workers place their companies first in their priorities, logic dictates that working mothers must be less than ideal both as mothers and as workers. In social experiments, evaluators rated highly successful women who were mothers as less likable and warm and more hostile.

Another theory is that mothers value time with their children more than higher wages, and therefore often accept part-time positions with low pay and more flexibility. In a survey, 50% of mothers working full-time indicated that they’re rather work part-time and 80% of mothers working part-time preferred part-time work. However, the negative impact of low wages in full-time work is not offset by flexible work hours, paid sick leave, or maternity leave.
Many don’t view the economic consequences of motherhood as an unfair penalty because motherhood is a choice. Because a woman can choose not to become a mother, they view mothers as responsible for their own poverty. In one experiment, participants exposed to dialogue about choice before answering questions regarding working mothers tended to discriminate against working mothers more strongly in matters of hiring and salary.

Strategies for Ending the Maternal Penalty

One recommended strategy is the development and implementation of parental leave policies, rather than maternity leave policies. Many feel that offering only maternity leave encourages the continued belief that raising children is primarily women’s responsibility. Breast-feeding is only one of many parental responsibilities and many working mothers utilize breast pumps to provide their babies with its benefits.

Family leave policies can benefit companies in a number of ways. One of those ways is saving money on training new employees. New parents returning to work after time spent bonding with their infants do so with much less emotional conflict, which results in higher productivity as well as increased job satisfaction. While sociologists focus on economic penalties, for women, the consequences of child-bearing are not just economic, but social, mental and physical as well.

As long as a person’s value being determined by their worth as human capital rather than their meaningful contribution to humanity continues, the devaluation of child care is apt to continue as well. Ironically, there is no group of people better situated to change societal stereotypes and end the maternal penalty than mothers themselves. As every working mother expected to excel in multiple arenas can attest, women are adept at multi-tasking. When united in advocating for a better quality of life for their children, they have proven to be unstoppable.

maternal penalty
Woman working in a Factory 1940s by Howard R. Hollem – US Library of Congress’s, under the digital ID fsac.1a34951
family Life with Iroquois

Hommage to the Equality Principles of the Iroquois Nation

Family Life With Iroquois Nation

It’s quite possible that family life in the Iroquois Nation may have had a lasting influence on the quality of women’s lives all over the world. Iroquois society reflected the basic tenet that life has no real quality without equality. In their society, women enjoyed far more freedom and many more human rights than the women of early American society.

American suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Lucretia Mott socialized with Iroquois women who were citizens of a six-nation confederacy. For a month, Lucretia Mott observed indigenous women share in discussion and decision-making as their nation organized its governmental structure. Shortly afterwards, she and Stanton held the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls. After Matilda Joslyn Gage was arrested in 1893 for attempting to vote in a school board election, she was adopted by the Mohawks, one of the six tribes of the Iroquois confederacy.

While serving as president of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association in 1875, she wrote a series of articles about the Iroquois for a popular magazine. In her articles, she stated that the “division of power between the sexes in its Indian republic was nearly equal” and that the Iroquois family structure “demonstrated woman’s superiority in power.” By contrast, women in early American society had no rights at all.

Ethnographer Alice Fletcher quoted an indigenous woman as saying “As an Indian woman I was free. I owned by home, my person, the work of my own hands, and my children should never forget me. I was better as an Indian woman than under white law.” Many indigenous women resisted becoming American citizens for that reason, since family life in the Iroquois Nation afforded motherhood far more respect.

In an article, Sally Roesch Wagner, author and founder of one of the first women’s studies programs, offers a conversation in which an indigenous woman named Alice described women’s role in government. Clan mothers were responsible for nominating men for chiefs. Only men who had never committed a theft, a murder or a rape could qualify for nomination. Marital rape was virtually non-existent. In his 1881 book, Legends, Traditions and Laws of the Iroquois, Tuscarora chief Elia Johnson, wrote that European men respected women “until they became civilized”.

In 1981, in response to the assertion that there was no evidence that societies in which women shared equal political power with men existed, Paula Gunn Allen, a Laguna Pueblo/Sioux author and scholar, wrote “Before we decide, when we search the memories and lore of tribal peoples, we might be able to see what eons and all kinds of institutions have conspired to hide from our eyes…”. Even today, family life in the Iroquois Nation continues the tradition of women and mothers bearing the responsibility of nominating and counseling the male chief who represents their clan in the grand council.
The role of women in family life in the Iroquois Nation was extremely diverse. In addition to household duties such as preparing food, they also participated in politics, and even gambled. A matrilineal society, property was passed down through the mother to her daughter, and after marriage, the man resided with his wife’s family. Men and women shared power equally.
Molly Brant, an Iroquois woman, is a good example of the extent of political influence that women enjoyed as a result of the gender equality of family life in the Iroquois Nation. After falling in love and having children with Sir William Johnson, a loyalist in the Revolutionary war, she became nearly as influential in English colonial society as she was in her own.

She played such a large role in mediating between the Iroquois and the colonials that one British commander remarked that that her influence was “far superior to that of all their Chiefs put together”. The British government built her a house, and the Canadian government gave her 120 acres of land in appreciation for her service. However, she is a controversial figure within the Iroquois Nation.

It is said that to forget history is to repeat it, but in the case of family life in the Iroquois Nation, in which women enjoyed equal rights, history may well be worth repeating. As women in modern societies continue to struggle for social, political and economic equality, the historic example of gender equality set by the Iroquois Nation proves that it has been achieved, and can be again.

family Life with Iroquois

family life during war

The Smallest Casualties of War

“We need to decide that we will not go to war, whatever reason is conjured up by the politicians or the media, because war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children.”

–Howard Zinn

Family Life During War: Children’s Perspective

During the 1960’s , partially in response to the Viet Nam war, a poster which contained the saying

“War is not healthy for children and other living things”

became very popular in the United States. One of the most powerful photographs ever taken was one in which how the horrors of war affected children was demonstrated in a very graphic and visceral way. The ways in family life during war affects children is a difficult topic to discuss and one that many people would prefer to avoid. However, because children are so often the innocent victims of war, revealing the plight of these children has the potential to arouse enough global compassion to prompt social and political action on their behalf.

Although the content is disturbing, J. De Berry and J. Boyden attempt to reveal some of the traumatic experiences that children of war face in their book “Children and Youth on the Front Line: Ethnography, Armed Conflict and Displacement (Studies in Forced Migration). The book is one of the first to incorporate information gathered from interviews with children themselves. It focuses on the sexual exploitation of girls as well as orphaned children who head households and those forced into combat.

Rather than the traditional view that children of war are little more than helpless victims, the author points to the vast amount of strength, creativity and resilience they must possess just to survive. While he acknowledges the value of the medical model of the effects of victimization and trauma, he also challenges experts to expand that model through more direct interaction and study of child survivors of war. The death of one or both parents, leaving children with no-one to care for them is just one of the many negative effects on family life during war.

According to one review no less than fifteen authors, many of whom were anthropologists who had spent time in war-torn regions, contributed to the book. The book points out that even the definition of “child” and the age of responsibility differs from culture to culture. For example, there are situations in which child soldiers forced to kill or be killed have been charged with war crimes. The legal age of accountability continues to be debated, and differs from country to country.

Negative Effects on Family Life During War

The death of one or both parents, leaving children with no-one to care for them is just one of the many negative effects on family life during war. There are many more. For example, one study showed that during war, the time that mothers are able to breast-feed their children is drastically reduced, which also increases the risk of illness and death.

According to an article, studies show that post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can not only be transmitted from one family member to another, but can even effect the development of a fetus in utero.

One study conducted in the U.S. also revealed an increase in child maltreatment by military personnel who had been deployed to war zones. Parents who experience combat often have difficulty adapting to civilian life and many do not receive adequate treatment for PTSD.

Children who experience such maltreatment exhibit psychological symptoms such as poor social adaptation, higher suicide rates, anxiety and aggression. The most recent research found that the increased stress of the non-deployed parent also resulted in a greater incidence of child abuse and neglect directly related to military deployment. The studies concluded that the stress of war, including the absence of a parent, affects every aspect of family life during war, and every family member, not just those that experience direct combat.

Rape and sexual violence is another common occurrence during war and has often been used as a tool of ethnic cleansing as well as a demonstration of power. Studies conducted among adolescent girls in Uganda and Kosovo showed that rape resulted in long-term difficulties with personal and social identity. Most studies have focused on adolescents, while relatively few have focused on younger children.

This book is devoted to giving the children of war a voice of their own and examining the ways in which they cope with the many forms of trauma associated with family life during war. Fortunately, there are a few international organizations that offer support to children of war. For the sake of all children, perhaps the horrors this book contains will serve to raise all parents’ voices in opposition to war as method of solving global problems.

family life during war
Child amid ruins following German aerial bombing of London. Toni Frissell, Abandoned boy, London, 1945
family life with the !Kung

Choose Understanding over Judgment: A Recipe for Extraordinary Anthropology

“Equality between the sexes is probably greater among gatherers and hunters, including the !Kung, than in most other societies around the world.”

–Marjorie Shostak

Originally published in 1981, Marjorie Shostak’s popular book titled “Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman” was reprinted in paperback in 2000. It continues to earn rave reviews from readers as well as the respect of anthropologists and academics the world over.

Preparation for Family Life with the !Kung

One of the many things that makes this such a remarkable book is the degree of dedication shown by the author in making it possible. That dedication took the form of painstakingly learning the language of the !Kung people during the three years from 1968 to 1971 that she experienced family life with the Kung. Her willingness to learn to communicate with them in their own language was an important factor in inspiring the level of trust necessary for Nisa to confide the many personal details which enabled Shostak to understand the true meaning of family life with the Kung.

All languages contain slang as well as nonverbal cues that affect meaning. To achieve even a rudimentary vocabulary took six months even with complete immersion and the aid of a tutor. It took ten months to acquire the linguistic skill to communicate on the level necessary to conduct a meaningful interview. After the first fifteen initial interviews, she returned in 1975 to complete six more before publishing the book and was surprised to learn how much family life with the Kung had changed in such a short time.

For good reason, the book both redefined the ethnographic interview and demonstrated its power as a tool for anthropological research. In addition to the twenty-one initial interviews, Ms. Shostak was also able to observe Nisa’s social interactions and corroborate much of what she had been told. Ironically, in many societies, women are culturally more free to speak with other women than with men, especially outsiders. Until the 20th century, the majority of anthropological field work was conducted by men, for whom it was difficult to impossible to gain the experience and perspective of the women of the culture they were studying.

Milestones in Family Life with the !Kung

An analysis of the book suggests that may be one reason that so little information about women’s lives is available. It also points out that Shostak considered Nisa her instructor, a cultural expert regarding the rites of womanhood and family life with the !Kung, and paid for her services during the educational process. The stories in the book represent only eight percent of all the interviews. Information from the interviews was arranged in chronological order from birth through all the milestones of her life as a woman.

Those milestones included discovering sexuality, marriage, childbirth, and maturation through old age. Respect for the culture as well as for linguistic precision were factors in Shostak’s choice to remain as true to the Kung form of expression as possible. According to an overview of the book, each of its fifteen chapters’ focuses on a different aspect of family life with the Kung. Through her experiences, the universal nature of the social intricacies of love, loss, joy and sorrow that accompany all women throughout their respective life journeys is affirmed.

Ms. Shostak, battling cancer, returned for the last time in 1993, and after searching the desert for weeks, found Nisa once more. Their communications during that visit served as the inspiration for a second book titled “Nisa Revisited“, which she was able to nearly complete before her death. Upon her death in 1998 at the age of 51, her work was described by the New York Times as having

“injected new life into techniques of anthropology”.

Her contribution was all the more remarkable since although her degree was not in anthropology, she later became an associate of the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology at Harvard University.

Her book continues to be taught in universities and the field of anthropology continues to benefit from Shostak’s dedication and respect for other cultures. However, perhaps it is women who benefit most from learning that some cultural differences can be beneficial ones.

family life with the !Kung
Woman Digging With Infants, taken by Marjorie Shostak
maternal societies

Where Women Rule: Fact or Fiction?

“I do think that women could make politics irrelevant; by a kind of spontaneous cooperative action the like of which we have never seen; which is so far from people’s ideas of state structure or viable social structure that it seems to them like total anarchy — when what it really is, is very subtle forms of interrelation that do not follow some heirarchal pattern which is fundamentally patriarchal. The opposite to patriarchy is not matriarchy, but fraternity, yet I think it’s women who are going to have to break this spiral of power and find the trick of cooperation.”

Germaine Greer

For many years, scientists hypothesized that matriarchal, or maternal, societies in which women rather than men enjoyed greater political power existed before the current patriarchal structure of most modern societies. Since history is written by the winners, evidence of such societies was not easy to find. Although many second wave feminists believed it to be true, the hypotheses was criticized by others including Camille Paglia and Cynthia Eller. The question of how many maternal societies have existed throughout history remains unanswered.

Types of Maternal Societies

Scientists and academics make a distinction between matrilineal societies, matrifocal societies, and matriarchal, or maternal, societies.

  • In a matrilineal society, property and the family name are passed down through the mother’s family. In Spain and many other Hispanic countries, when a woman marries, it is common for her to have two surnames, the first her father’s, or “family” name, and the second, her mother’s.
  • “Matrifocal” is not used to describe a society, but rather, is used to describe a single family structure or the structure of a group of families within a larger society. While that group may be large, such as the current number of single mothers within many societies, mothers belonging to these matrilocal groups may or may not enjoy any greater political power within the society as a result of membership.
  • “Matrilocal” is used to describe new families being established near the bride’s family or origin, rather than the groom’s.

Political Power in Maternal Societies

Political power is one of the elements that differentiates matriarchal societies from other types of maternal societies. In a matriarchal society women are the primary decision-makers and make political policy. Great Britain, despite being a monarchy in which women have held considerable political power, is not considered a matriarchal society. Women have only ascended the throne in the absence of a male royal heir.

Some modern examples of matriarchal or maternal societies include the 40,000 member Mosuo society in Southwest China. Their language doesn’t even contain a word for “husband” or “father” because the women never marry. In addition to women controlling the finances, property is passed down through maternal lineage.

Some anthropologists have argued for the redefinition of matriarchal or maternal societies to include those that contain a mixture of matriarchal and matrilineal characteristics. One example of this is the Minangkabau society in West Sumatra, Indonesia. Their matrilineal society is based on maternal clans. While the religion is Islam and men govern political affairs, they do so according to the rules of “adat”, a local system of cultural traditions that had been in place for generations before the arrival of the Islamic religion.

As the world’s largest matrilineal society with over four million members living in West Sumatra as well as three million more, they continue to be influential in the region. One reason for their influence is a traditional custom in which boys, beginning as young as seven years of age, leave their homes to be culturally educated at a community center. As teens, they travel to other regions to continue their educations and gain life experience before returning to become members of a council of “uncles” which helps administer community resources.

Another example of a surviving matrilineal society in which women share religious and political power is that of the Bribri, an indigenous people of Costa Rica. In their society, only women are permitted to inherit land. Additionally, men are also not permitted to prepare the sacred cacao drink that is used in their religious rituals. However, power is shared, in that only men are permitted to perform certain rituals as well, such as that preparing the bodies of the dead for burial. Another example of power sharing is that only men from certain clans, which are matrilineal, can become shamans. Additionally, male shamans, who receive training in herbal medicine and healing for ten years, are not permitted to teach their own sons, but only the sons of their female relatives.

There have been maternal societies of some type on nearly every continent in the world at some time throughout history. Perhaps one day men and women will learn to share power to the extent that historians of the future will have as much difficulty locating evidence of patriarchal societies of the past as current historians have locating evidence of matriarchal ones.

maternal societies
Bribri girl holding a sugared cacao fruit