Last week’s worst headline award goes to…

Last week’s worst headline award goes to… September 8, 2008

Study blames mums for Afghan child mortality

Seriously? The article tells us:

High child mortality rates in conservative Afghanistan are linked not just to war but to mothers being uneducated and having little or no say when their children need medical help, a study has found.

And according to the headline, this is somehow the mothers’ fault?

We can give them the benefit of the doubt here, and assume that the intention was not to actually lay the blame at the mothers’ feet, but the impression that the headline gives is certainly disturbing. The words we use can be pretty important in how we understand meaning; consider how this would have sounded if the headline was something like: “Study blames oppression of women for child mortality” or “Study blames gender inequity for child deaths.”

The final quote is also problematic. The researchers say that:

The poor economic and educational status of these women, and their overall immaturity caused by a lack of learning opportunities may have resulted in difficulties in preventing illness in their children.

Again, can’t we broaden the responsibility to pin this on overall social relations (compounded by war and occupation), rather than on the women themselves? Of course, the “Afghan-men-are-inherently-oppressive” narrative wouldn’t be especially helpful either, but when we focus on the individual mothers as the reason for their children being sick, we’re not really getting anywhere near the root of the problem. (Not to mention how pretentious the word “immaturity” sounds here.)

What do you think? Am I making too big a deal of the way that this is phrased?

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