Motherhood is a profession and not a natural gift — I could not agree more. Indeed, caring for a child from the time of conception, throughout pregnancy, at birth and thereafter, should not be taken for granted.
A woman may be biologically fit to conceive and deliver a baby, but caring for a child is a lifelong learning process. But if motherhood is a "profession" according to the article Nurturing women to be good mothers (Gulf News, March 25), doesn't this mean that all women need to qualify before becoming mothers? Do women qualify to become mothers in the same way people qualify to become teachers, engineers or doctors for example?
Millions of women around the world carry, deliver and care for children without being taught how to do so. Many learn about what is involved by watching their mothers, aunties or grandmothers, but many do not acquire this informal introduction into motherhood and ‘learn on/in the job'. Indeed, well into the 21st century, there are thousands of women who are ‘good' mothers, but remain illiterate.
What is the measure of ‘good' motherhood and who has the right to define the key attributes of a ‘good' mother?
The University College for Mother and Family Science (UCMFS) in Ajman, which claims to be "the first educational institution in the world to offer a bachelor's degree in the mother and family area" seems to have the answer to this question. The programme this college offers is designed to "teach women how to become strong, skilled mothers". It also seems to have defined what a "healthy" family is.
The degree offered at UCMFS raises questions:
- Who is a strong, skilled mother?
- What is a healthy family?
- Does preparing strong, skilled mothers ensure healthy families?
- When things go wrong in a family, is it always the mother's fault?
- How does the particular programme that includes course work on tailoring, make-up, hair-dressing, pedicures make a strong, skilled mother?
- How does a programme that teaches about family affairs, family health and learning about pharmacy, diseases in the region, cooking courses, home decoration, fitness, personal beauty, fashion and tailoring prepare a woman to "work in family courts or other professions that require ‘family science' consultants?
According to the Director of the UCMFS, the programme came in response to the many serious issues confronting UAE society. Does this mean that preparing "good" mothers in the sense implied in the programme of ‘Motherhood and Family Science' ensures a solution to these problems? If so, the initiative suggests that mothers alone are responsible for all these problems and raises the questions: Are mothers responsible for the high divorce rates in the country? Are they responsible for the problems associated with ‘maid-/nanny-dependency'?
I may be missing the point, but aren't fathers equally responsible for both successes and failures within families? Isn't fatherhood a ‘profession' too? Or are men naturally good fathers? Indeed are all men in the UAE good fathers and, as a result, there is no need for a programme in ‘Fatherhood and Family Science'? Don't men have anything to do with the serious problems in the country?
While I agree that universities should play a significant role in analysing social problems and should engage with policymakers in developing solutions, I doubt whether offering a degree in ‘Motherhood and Family Science' such as the one at UCMFS is the right model for such involvement. The UAE has undergone significant developments in the last four decades and impacted its social structure and family patterns in significant ways.
The government has demonstrated great concern about these challenges and the media has paid similar attention to the rising divorce rates, domestic violence and abuse, spinsterhood and family disintegration. Blaming women and making them responsible solely for the ills in their society will hardly help towards a solution of these challenges.
Any measure towards finding solutions to family-related challenges should include men. If the family in the UAE is disintegrating, then the role of men should be considered. When it is found that boys in the UAE are dropping out of school in much greater numbers than girls, while the women's literacy rates are soaring, one can hardly blame women for that. The generational gap that no doubt exists between the old and the young in their expectations, experiences and ambitions cannot be bridged by simply making women better mothers.
Family structures have changed and new forms of the family have emerged too. It is unfair to dismiss new family forms as necessarily bad. My grandfather, who raised six young children on his own after his wife died, will turn in his grave to hear that men cannot raise children. Single mothers will be equally offended to be told that they are not ‘good' mothers.
University programmes can help deal with social, economic and political challenges in a society if they equip students (men and women), with the analytical tools that enable them to recognise the complexity of gender in all social issues before jumping to conclusions and putting the blame on one group or another.
When it comes to the challenges within the family, the restricting notions of femininity and masculinity that men and women have about each other need to be addressed when examining productive collaboration.
Mothers and fathers have roles and responsibilities that are equally important for raising children. Fatherhood is a profession that requires as much thought and attention as motherhood.
Dr Nawar Al Hassan Golley is associate professor in Critical Theory and Gender and Women's Studies at American University of Sharjah.