Opinion: Red roses for mom, red cards for the right | Opinion | DW | 12.05.2019
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Opinion: Red roses for mom, red cards for the right

Mother's Day isn't just about flowers and family, but also feminism and the continuing struggle for women's equal rights. The movement can't let the holiday be co-opted by right-wing populists, writes Astrid Prange.

Flowers for Mother's Day? I admit, I can't get enough of them. There's nothing more soothing for my soul than bathing in a sea of roses and greeting cards.

But watch out for fair-weather friends. Far-right lyrics have been creeping into Mother's Day odes. In Germany, the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party says in its platform it wants to "end discrimination against stay-at-home moms." In Poland, the conservative ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is telling single mothers to get married again and have more kids. And in Brazil, Women's Minister Damares Alves has talked up the need to put boys in blue and girls in pink.

Sign at a 1986 women's rights rally in Bonn, Germany (picture-alliance/Klaus Rose)

"Not just cookie hearts made of butter, but real RIGHTS for mother" was the refrain at a 1986 women's rights rally in Bonn, Germany

Abusing the mother myth

Far-right politicians, taking part in Christian fundamentalist events like the recent World Congress of Families in Verona, Italy, want to turn back time, and misconstrue a hardened mother myth to do it. In Germany, where Adolf Hitler once ordered the awarding of the Cross of Honor of the German Mother, this myth comes with a hefty legacy.

Now in the 21st century, here comes unwanted company heralding the value of the "traditional family." This goes hand-in-hand with the political struggle against abortion, fluid gender identity, feminism and state-supported childcare.

Read more: Women still face legal discrimination in 155 countries

Betraying women's rights?

It makes sense at first that many women and mothers would want nothing to do with Mother's Day. For them, it's a commercial holiday about flowers and a political betrayal of women's rights.

This is not too far off the thinking of holiday founder, Anna Marie Jarvis, who on May 12, 1907, delivered five hundred white carnations to a church in Grafton, West Virginia, where her late mother had taught Sunday school. Later, the holiday's commercialization made her regret starting the holiday at all.

But I say: Don't give up on it. The holiday is for mothers around the world, regardless of political, religious or ethnic affiliation. We mothers should use the day as a way to connect with the ideals of the women's movement — and not hand it over to right-wing populists.

Read more: Misogynists, homophobes no 'family' supporters

Watch video 04:28

How far have women come in Germany? Not as far as you might think

Maternal death on the decline

There is, after all, plenty to celebrate. For example, maternal mortality rates have fallen around the world. Between 1990 and 2015, women dying during pregnancy or birth fell from 500,000 to 300,000. Child mortality rates have also declined.

There is rapidly increasing awareness about the importance of quality affordable child care as well as the pervasive gender discrimination that holds girls and women back in educational and professional life. Still, the numbers also suggest that it may be at least another century until mothers and fathers can enjoy true freedom of choice between career and family, and until women and men break from traditional gender roles.

Read more: Gender equality at work could take 'more than 200 years'

On the woman's back

It was not long ago that these goals seemed utopian. Remember, until 1958 in Germany husbands had ultimate say over their wives and children. Even if he allowed his wife to work, a man could unilaterally control his wife's salary. Women still needed their husband's permission to have a bank account until 1962.

This kind of "traditional family," built on the backs of women, I can gladly do without. Mother's Day is therefore a good moment to reflect on the long struggle for women's and mothers' rights. Let's not leave our day to fair-weather friends on the right.

Read more: Berlin's Women's Day holiday merits more than lip service

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