Imagine how the world would change if we saw every mother as a sister. If we extended to every mother the same empathy, care and concern for her health and happiness that extend to our own sisters. This morning, as I sit here filled with joy at the arrival of my sister's new baby, a little girl named Winter, my heart opens up not just to her and to that new life--to the new lives being birthed by mothers all over the world, many of them struggling for health, empowerment, and even survival.
This powerful idea of a Global Sisterhood of Motherhood is coined by the maternal health advocate Christy Turlington Burns in a presentation curated for the International Museum of Women. Turlington Burns travels the world to bring us examples of brave and dynamic women who see strangers -- mothers everywhere -- as their sisters.
Through art and stories from the Museum's global archives, Turlington Burns shows how motherhood binds us together, and how that shared sisterhood can be a force for changing the world. As she says, "I think that mothers everywhere share a sisterhood--a shared experience, an instant connection -- and that community can fuel change."
Turlington Burns presents a story from Argentina, My Child Is Your Child: The Mothers of Argentina's Plaza de Mayo, that shows how -- starting with just a handful of women -- a group of Argentine mothers grew to become a national force and an international inspiration, powered by love for their children. These mothers demanded to know the fate of their sons and daughters, 30,000 of whom were kidnapped, tortured and killed in the country's "Dirty War" of the 1970s and 1980s. The mothers demanded to know the fate of the "disappeared" children by gathering and being seen. Linked arm and arm, they circled the plaza outside the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires, carrying their children's photographs and names. During a period of intense grief and turmoil, part of what fueled these mothers was their sense of collective sisterhood and empathy for each other. As one of the mothers, Carmen Robles de Zurita, said, "I keep on looking for my children and everybody else's children, because to me your daughter is my daughter, she's a little bit mine. My children are a little bit yours."
Turlington Burns presents other inspirational examples of women who find common bonds and sisterhood with other mothers. For example, she presents the story of Rhoda Amafumba, a midwife and nurse from Zambia, who works tirelessly to save the lives of mothers in an environment where resources and staffing are slim. Amafumba frequently works double shifts, driven by empathy, concern, and passion for laboring mothers whose lives would otherwise be deeply at risk. Closer to home, she showcases the perspective of Karenna Gore Schiff, who finds affinity with American working mothers of every background, as she asks "Where are America's family values?"
Finally, Turlington Burns presents her own argument for a renewed global focus on the critical issue of maternal health -- driven by the knowledge that a woman somewhere dies every two minutes from a preventable complication of pregnancy or of childbirth. In her analysis, she asks why the world's governments are not doing more to address a major issue that the world knows how to solve. With global action and momentum still lacking, she asserts that is when women worldwide start to see other mothers as sisters that we will see an insurmountable push for change. As she says, "I believe in the Sisterhood of Motherhood and know that together we can make pregnancy and childbirth safe for all moms."
So, today, as I celebrate my sister and the birth of her baby, I also celebrate my other sisters, the mothers of the world. And I hope for the day when that sisterhood will propel a world where giving birth is safe for women everywhere, and where mothers' leadership and voices are truly valued and heard.
Christy Turlington Burns' selections on Motherhood are part of the International Museum of Women's online Curating Change exhibition.
Christy Turlington Burns is the founder of Every Mother Counts, an advocacy and mobilization campaign to increase education and support for maternal mortality reduction globally.