from Women Around the World and Women and Foreign Policy Program

It’s Time to Break Barriers to Maternal Health and Rights

Woman brazil recife slum pregnant Zika

April 25, 2016

Woman brazil recife slum pregnant Zika
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Voices from the Field features contributions from scholars and practitioners highlighting new research, thinking, and approaches to development challenges. This article is authored by Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity.

Healthy women and girls are the cornerstones to building communities that are safe, just, and thriving; and rights-based maternal health care is the linchpin to realizing women’s health and rights. Yet women are dying and suffering debilitating disease and injury during pregnancy and childbirth due to preventable causes: they bleed to death, acquire infections, have underlying but treatable health conditions, or obtain unsafe abortions.

The fact is that becoming pregnant is still one of the most dangerous things a woman can do in her lifetime.

Every woman has a right to safe motherhood and the way forward to improving maternal health is not a mystery. A new ninety-second video released by the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) highlights six fundamental barriers to advancing maternal health:

  • Unmet need for family planning. If all women with unmet need for modern methods of contraception were using it, global maternal mortality would be reduced by nearly one-third.
  • Underlying health conditions. Women living with HIV have an eight-times-greater risk of death in pregnancy than HIV-negative women, as well as an increased risk of acquiring other infections during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
  • Unsafe abortion. Over twenty-one million women around the world—the majority of whom live in developing countries—experience unsafe abortions each year, the complications of which cause thirteen percent of all maternal deaths.
  • Disrespect and abuse. Women choose to give birth at home not just because they live too far from health facilities or because they can’t afford treatment, but because they have experienced (or fear they will experience) humiliation, maltreatment, or discriminatory and substandard care.
  • Human rights violations. Child marriage, female genital cutting, and other forms of gender-based violence vastly increase the health risks of pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Weak health systems. In most countries with high maternal mortality ratios, health workers are poorly trained, and inadequately paid, facilities lack access to basic equipment and commodities, and infrastructure such as roads, electricity, and sanitation are unreliable.

To break these barriers to maternal health, we need greater leadership and a coordinated global movement to advance the health and human rights of all women and girls. That is why advocates, non-governmental organizations, health care providers, and policymakers from around the world are recognizing International Day for Maternal Health and Rights.

Earlier this month, more than 350 organizations and individuals from around the world joined the call on the United Nations to recognize April 11 as International Day for Maternal Health and Rights. We must all add our voices to this call and stand up for women and girls and for respectful maternal health care.

When the health and rights of all women and girls are respected, protected, and honored, they can live the lives they want and build communities that are safe, just, and thriving; and that means a better world for all.

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