Capitalism has Hijacked Motherhood
In the UK, it’s an opportunity for big business to fill their commercial gap and line their pockets between Valentine’s Day and Easter celebrations. Marketing Week estimates that Mother’s Day is worth $409 million to businesses in the UK, while in Australia $1.36 billion is spent on the day. According to the 2013 National Retail Federation survey, US spending on Mother’s Day exceeds $20 billion annually, with more than $2 billion worth of flowers bought. There has been an upward spending trend on the day since 2009, and it is now ranked 3rd after Christmas and Valentine’s Day in terms of money spent by consumers in the country. In the UK, according to figures quoted by the Guardian, individuals are paying out twice as much on Mother’s Day as they were a decade ago. Expectations of what to buy are also changing – away from cards and flowers to expensive electrical goods, accessories, perfumes, and pampering sessions. Motherhood is therefore a lucrative business within consumerism dominated capitalist societies which have managed to market it as yet another product to increase profits for companies and generate wealth for economies, as one journalist writes, “For retailers Mother’s Day is certainly a cash cow”.
It is ironic therefore that within capitalist states that encourage individuals to celebrate and splash out on this day, they have simultaneously over the past few decades systematically undermined the status of motherhood within their societies for the remaining 364 days of the year. In the name of increasing economic growth, capitalist governments and systems have promoted the model of the working woman as the model of female success and the epitome of female empowerment. Last August, UK Chancellor George Osborne, when announcing new government plans to provide child-care support for families with two working parents, aimed at encouraging women with children into the workplace, stated, “This government is on the side of people who want to work hard and get on in life”. Subsequently, he received a wave of criticism from many mothers groups and journalists. They accused him of insulting and stigmatising stay at home mothers by firstly, failing to financially support women who chose not to work in order to raise their children, and secondly by suggesting that mothers who decide to take care of their children full-time are somehow failures who work less hard and have no drive to ‘get on in life’. Osborne also described the role of ‘stay-at-home mother’ as a “lifestyle choice”, insinuating that it held a secondary status compared to employment that should be viewed as the ideal path in life for women. The message was clear – that full-time mothers who chose not to work in order to raise their children were not deserving of the same financial rewards as working mothers; that the status of women correlates with the level of benefit they bring to the economy; that the role of mother is inferior to wage-earner; and that the contribution of stay-at-home mothers to the wellbeing of society is less valuable than the contribution of working women to the coffers and economic growth of the state.
Alongside the promotion of this erroneous template of female success, capitalist governments have moulded their benefits and taxation systems in a way to manipulate and coerce women to abandon their role as stay-at-home mothers and pressure them to enter the workplace to boost the economy, rather than supporting them in their vital role of nurturing and bringing up their children. In 2013, a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that in the UK, the average family with one worker and two children loses 27.9% of their wages in tax. In contrast, single people and two-earner couples have seen their tax bills fall since 2009 due to benefitting from cuts in tax-free personal allowances and other changes.
Additionally in the UK, there has been a drive by its government in recent years to ease child-care accessibility for families in order to encourage women with young children to enter employment. This February, Liz Truss, the childcare minister recommended to local authorities to encourage schools to take in 2 year olds to ease the childcare shortage in the country and for their nurseries to open for longer during working days. Legislation is to be introduced to enable this to take place. One wonders whether a time will come when childcare facilities are attached to maternity wards to facilitate women who’ve just given birth to re-enter work without delay! Included in the UK budget this March was also a £750 million a year ‘tax-free childcare’ scheme for all families with two working parents who will receive £2000 per child each year towards childcare costs. The plan again received criticism from mothers groups who accused the government of favouring working mothers over stay-at-home ones. In defending the scheme, Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury made clear his government’s priority with regards to the role of mothers, when he said that it was economically beneficial for mothers to return to the workplace.
Unsurprisingly therefore, in Britain today, two-thirds of married mothers with dependent children under the age of three are now working. According to a 2013 study by the UK Office for National Statistics, 200,000 women in 2-parent families with dependent children have re-entered the workplace over the past 2 years. This is more than in the previous 15 years combined. The society is clearly moving towards the Swedish model where over 90% of all 18 months to 5 year olds are in day-care, under a system where ‘stay-at-home mothers’ has been discouraged, including through a tax system that financially penalizes women if they wish to be the primary carers of their own children. Capitalist states are therefore clearly doing their level best to separate mothers from their young children for economic benefit – a short-sighted vision that ignores its harmful impact upon the wellbeing of women, their children, family life and the health of society overall. This capitalist philosophy of encouraging children to be raised by nurseries, childcare centres, and others other than their parents has been blamed by many sociologists and childcare professionals for the rise in psychological, behavioural, and learning problems amongst children, youth, and young adults within these states. Swedish schools for example have among the highest truancy, classroom disorder, and the worst discipline problems in Europe.
Capitalism is therefore a regressive ideology that sanctifies wealth creation over all other goals in life and that systematically places economic growth above other important human needs and values. It clearly views women as yet another tool to feed the economy rather than as valued human beings who have a vital role in raising a strong future generation. It has enabled men and states to absolve themselves of the responsibility of financially maintaining women, expecting them to fend for themselves. It has undermined the family unit by placing materialism over motherhood. And it has failed to recognise that the value of motherhood to society cannot be measured by GDP. Consequently, it has not only coerced women to sacrifice their role as mothers and cheated them of valuable time with their children, it has also systematically stigmatized and devalued motherhood. This has caused full-time mothers to face much prejudice, including being made to feel of less worth than those who work, or guilty for the choice they have made, or that they are not making a full contribution to society. In fact, there has even been a term coined within these states – “Motherist” – to describe those who hold prejudice against stay-at-home mothers. Undoubtedly, even the label – “stay-at-home mother” continues to carry negative connotations and stereotypes within capitalist societies. All this is the mark of an ideology that has waged war on motherhood.
So while capitalist politicians regularly pay lip-service to the importance of motherhood, there is a gulf of difference between the rhetoric and the reality of their policies and laws implemented upon the lives of women that consistently deliver body blows to motherhood and stay-at-home mothers.
Islam however, as an ideology and system from the Lord of the Worlds (swt), caters for every human and societal need, never placing money over motherhood or economic benefit over the rights of children. In Islam, the importance of motherhood is not represented by revenue generating gimmick days. Rather it is appreciated by the values it promotes within society and the laws it implements within a state which protect its status. There is no day set aside in Islam for the special treatment of mothers, for children are obliged to treat both their parents – in words and deeds – with the same respect, honour, love, affection, humility, kindness, mercy, patience and obedience each and every day of their lives. Additionally, there are countless Islamic evidences that indicate the high status and preferential treatment that mothers in particular deserve. Allah (swt) says,
This is the unrivalled status that Islam affords the mother. However, this view of motherhood is complemented by the roles, rights, and responsibilities that Islam defines for men and women within family life, in addition to the Islamic duties of the state towards women. For example, in Islam the primary role of the woman is defined as being a wife and a mother. Consequently, women are supported in fulfilling this most vital of responsibilities of ensuring happy homes and the effective upbringing of children, upon which the sound future of any society depends. Secularists and feminists often turn their noses down upon this Islamic ideal. However, this stems in part from a Western feminist historical precedence of placing the role of breadwinner above home-maker – which continues into modern times within capitalist states. Islam however does not view the role of a mother as inferior to a wage-earner but rather as discussed, elevates motherhood to a position of high esteem. It views the contribution they make to the health, wellbeing and progress of society as the nurturers and educators of the future generation as invaluable. This enables women to enjoy their time with their children and fulfil their responsibilities towards them without being stigmatised, feeling undervalued or suffering a sense of guilt for not contributing to the economy.
In addition, Islam obliges men to financially provide for their wife, mother, children or other female family members. Allah (swt) says,
If the woman has no male relative to financially maintain her, then the state is obliged to do so, hence guaranteeing for her financial security always, as in accordance to the hadith of the Prophet(saw), who as leader of the state in Madinah stated,
This state obligation to ensure that all women – Muslim and non-Muslim – are provided for was one that leaders under the Khilafah took with great seriousness, as exemplified by an example at the time of the second Khalifah Umar bin Al-Khattab (ra). One day, a Bedouin woman came to Madinah and spoke to Umar (ra) who was taking rest under the shade of a tree. Not knowing who he was, she said, “I am a poor woman, and I have sons. The Khalifah Umar bin Al-Khattab sent Muhammad ibn Muslimah to collect and distribute the zakat, but he did not give us anything.” So Umar (ra) called for his servant to bring Muhammad ibn Muslimah to him and said to him, “By Allah, I always try to choose the best of you. What will you say when Allah asks you about this woman?” Muhammad’s eyes filled with tears, then Umar (ra) said to him, “If I send you, then give her the zakat for this year plus one year.” Then he called for a camel for her and gave her flour and oil and said, “Take this until you meet us in Khaybar, and we will give you more”. So she came to him in Khaybar, and he called for two more camels for her saying, “Take these, this should be enough for you until Muhammad ibn Muslimah comes to you, for I have commanded him to give you what is due to you for this year and last year.”
Umar (ra) understood his responsibility as the leader of the Khilafah to provide adequately for the woman and her children. He did not respond to the woman’s request for help by advising her to go out and get a job!
Islam therefore lifts from women permanently the burden of fending for themselves and their children. It secures for them that which is viewed as a luxury within secular states – the ability to commit their time and efforts to full-time motherhood and the effective upbringing of her children without being forced to compromise their parental role due to work. And this right cannot be changed or discarded based upon economic need for it is enshrined within the Islamic texts. Furthermore, the Islamic taxation laws cannot be manipulated to pressure women into employment, for these are also fixed and clearly defined. Hence, although Islam gives women the choice to work, it does not expect them to. It does not link their status to employment, nor does it accept that their choice to work be shaped by family, societal, or economic pressures. And it defines for them a role in life that cherishes the uniqueness of the woman and is in accordance with her nature as the child-bearer of societies, rather than one that contradicts it.
This is the high and protected status of motherhood in Islam and one that will become a reality in the lives of the masses of women of the Muslim world through the comprehensive implementation of the Islamic system under the rule of the Khilafah. It is this state alone that will rescue motherhood from the clutches of capitalism that has dishonoured, devalued and defiled it for decades and reduced it to a money-making product.
Dr. Nazreen Nawaz
Member of the Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir