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Today is International Women's Day. This afternoon I will be delivering a speech as part of Women's Voices Worldwide's Celebration of Speech event. The following is the transcript of my speech.
She was told she would move on and forget. She didn’t.
I myself fared relatively well in that I ended up in a good adoptive family, with parents who loved me and raised me well, although I have also struggled throughout my life with various psychological and emotional issues that I now understand as rooted in the loss of my original family and with the challenges of growing up in a non-genetic family.
On December 10, 1948, almost two decades before my birth, the United Nations General Assembly adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Allow me to read article number 25 to you now. Bear in mind that this was 1948 so the masculine pronoun is used, but it is intended to apply to both men and women.
• (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
• (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
In 1966 my young mother was told she was not worthy to parent me because she was unmarried, and her lack of financial resources was used as evidence of her lack of capability. No one saw this as a violation of human rights, hers or mine.
I want to emphasize that this is not an anti-adoption speech. I acknowledge that adoption can be a positive thing in the right circumstance, and in fact I myself am an adoptive mother by way of older-child foster care adoption. I am not “anti-adoption” any more than a person who speaks out about sweatshops, child labor, and other problems in the garment industry is anti-clothing or a person who raises awareness about mistreatment of immigrant workers or overuse of toxic pesticides in agriculture is anti-agriculture. What I am is pro-social-justice. Pro-reform. Pro-human-rights -- including the basic right of parents to raise their own children when they want to do so. One woman’s motherhood must not come at the expense of another woman’s basic human rights.
When women of any age are unable to raise their own children because of socioeconomic factors, I view that as a human rights violation and a societal failure.
When women of any age face the agonizing choice to let others raise their children because they don't trust that they themselves can keep their children with them and also keep them safe as a result of domestic violence, I consider that a to be human rights violation and a societal failure.
When women are unable to heal from the traumas of their own early lives by way of adequate access to mental health and other services and instead acquire addictions and other destructive behaviors that prevent them from effectively parenting their own children, that too is a human rights violation and a societal failure.
Many years have passed since 1966 and some things have changed and some haven't. Rates of adoption and teen pregnancy have both dropped significantly, but teen mothers still face tremendous stigma and cultural shaming. Many young expectant mothers still experience familial, religious, or societal coercion to relinquish children whom they might otherwise, with adequate support, choose to parent. And we still live in a society that does not truly support parents or value the work of mothering, regardless of age.
In many ways, the world is not so different from that of 1966. But for me, one significant thing has changed.
I was born into secrecy and silence -- the powerless, voiceless child of a mother who had not much more voice than I did. But I am not voiceless now, and I will not be silent regarding the rights of mothers and children.