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Poverty and Motherhood

Nene Perreras is a mother of seven children aged 16 years to one year. Her family lives in the Temporary Housing of Smokey Mountain, a garbage dumpsite in Metro Manila, Philippines.

Amidst this life of poverty, people often ask her, “Don't you find it difficult coping with so many children?” With deep faith and conviction, Nene replies, “No, its wonderful to have many children.” Nene shares that despite their poverty, not once did she ever entertain the thought of having an abortion.

Nene is just one of the countless very poor women who are looked down upon by many sectors of society simply because they have many children. Too many people are quick to condemn poor women for the “crime” of having many children and for directly contributing to poverty. Their solution: population control.

Poverty in the Philippines is increasing and deepening. Today our eyes are being opened to the social problem that has long been ignored and is about ready to explode. More and more, it is becoming clear to all that poverty needs urgent and radical solutions not just from the government but from each one of us. It is not just an economic concern. It is also a major cause of many other social problems such as the increase in crimes, corruption in government, the poor health of the majority, degradation of the environment, exploitation by rich countries, deterioration of values, etc. Poverty is not just the problem of the poor. It affects all of us.

Global Situation: Population and Poverty

Since the Beijing Conference, radical feminists have stepped up their attacks on femininity, motherhood and the family. Through their First World benefactors, radical feminists work to strengthen the population program of Third World countries like the Philippines by advancing the myth that poverty is the result of a big population. The solution to poverty is therefore to drastically decrease population growth. Through mass media, children are depicted as burdens that drain the finances of the family. Women are encouraged to choose careers over motherhood. Being a good parent is defined as being able to give children many material goods.

Local Situation: Motherhood and Poverty

Like most Filipinos, Teodora (a social ministry for the empowerment of women) was awakened by the fast events that recently transpired in our country. We were filled with hope during the People Power 2 uprising. We considered ourselves a part of the powerful 'civil society' and rejoiced to know that many, like us, have kept the idealism and the belief that we can still build a just and progressive society free of corruption. Then came EDSA 3. Masses of the very poor people were passionately fighting for the return of a deposed president, despite evidence showing that he had presided over a corrupt government. It became clear that no one among government or the Church had ever really understood the needs of the poor.

The new challenge: Motherhood in the midst of poverty

For many this event was an awakening to how ignored and neglected the poor have been. For Teodora members, it confirmed the need for the group to go beyond inspiring through values formation and enlightening through advocacy. Teodora's advocacy for motherhood and family will not reach hearts when stomachs are hungry. How can a mother generously accept the blessing of children when her family hardly has enough for the next meal?

Teodora should now actively work with mothers in the poor areas. Reaching out to the poor means that apart from promoting the vocation of motherhood, Teodora should also help women cope with the actual challenges of being a good mother in the face of poverty. This direction was started in the Teodora Congress with 'Motherhood in the Midst of Poverty' as its theme.

One of the guest speakers, Mita Pardo de Tavera spoke on 'Motherhood in the Face of Poverty'. Her past experience as the head of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Population Commission (POPCOM), while maintaining her personal stance as a strong pro-lifer, enabled her to give a macro perspective of how motherhood is an important link to development. She stressed that population control is not the solution to poverty and in fact leads to problems like those being experienced by First World countries. In these countries, the emerging problem is a rapidly aging population with no young generation to replace the workforce. These countries now resort to such measures as importing their workforce, augmenting their young generation through adoption, caring for and supporting programs for the aged. They face the possible worst scenario of extinction of their people.

She stressed that population is not the cause of poverty. Rather, poverty stems from other reasons such as corruption, the government's inability to provide basic services especially good education for our people, the failure to create job opportunities, etc.

Bobbie Jopson Lagman who spent a number of years working to uplift the life of the rural and later the urban poor gave a talk on 'Effective Mothering: The Simple and Natural Way'. Bobby advocates a return to the traditional and simple way of raising children. For example, our educational system today is pushing our children to learn more and more academics at a younger age. She lamented the loss of playtime for children which is an important part of growing up. She also decried the lack of proper nutrition for children.

Bobby advocates raising children the way our grandparents used to. Poor families can still provide all the basic needs of their children by being simple and avoiding the trap of consumerism. Mothers can also become an economic force because of their collective consumer choices.

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