To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need bold, brave, multi-sectoral action that challenges the status quo and delivers a world that is just, equitable, and enjoyable for everyone. For the past ten years, the members of the Global Respectful Maternity Care Council have worked to accomplish just that by breaking down traditional silos between health and human rights; maternal and newborn health; development and humanitarian – and in the process challenging established social norms around power, control, and decision-making in pregnancy and childbirth.
The Global Respectful Maternity Care Council is a unique multi-sectoral collaboration of more than 350 individuals from close to 100 organizations, representing 45 countries. It includes researchers, clinicians, advocates, professional associations, UN agencies, and donors. It is representative of professional groups, human rights groups, women’s rights groups, groups working with vulnerable populations, as well as organizations working in humanitarian settings. Members range from small, grassroots nonprofits to large international and transnational organizations. What unites us all is the belief that women in childbirth and newborns have a right to respectful and dignified care, and we can achieve this only by joining forces and working together.
Women’s Rights are Human Rights
The realization of women’s rights in childbirth would not be possible without the support of the human rights and women’s rights communities. On October 4th this support was further strengthened by a report from the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, which highlighted violations of women’s rights in facility-based childbirth and other reproductive health services. The Special Rapporteur received an unprecedented 128 submissions from stakeholders, including governments, non-governmental and research institutions. This clearly shows that the world is ready to deliver what many women and girls have been asking for: respectful and dignified care.
In her report, the Special Rapporteur drew her inspiration from the countless stories shared by women and girls around the world and bravely showcased by activists to ensure that these voices do not go unheard.
The report shows that mistreatment and violence against women in reproductive healthcare services and during childbirth in health facilities happens all around the world and affects women across all socioeconomic levels.
Similarly, the global What Women Want campaign found that the number one ask for more than 1.2 million women and girls globally was respectful and dignified care.
A New Charter for Women and Newborns
The Special Rapporteur’s report urges government action to address the structural and systematic causes of violence in childbirth, including stereotypes on the role of women in society. In order to do that, governments and other stakeholders need to know the specific rights of women and newborns that are implicated in maternity care. The Global RMC Council recently updated the Respectful Maternity Care Charter: The Universal Rights of Women and Newborns to clarify how human rights are implicated in the context of pregnancy and childbirth and affirm the basic inalienable rights of women and their newborns. The charter focuses on basic human rights that in many instances, as the UN Special Rapporteur highlights, are being violated, including the right to respect, dignity, confidentiality, information and informed consent; the right to the highest attainable standard of health; and freedom from discrimination and from all forms of ill-treatment.
The charter is based on widely accepted human rights instruments including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and others. It is also supported by regional human rights instruments including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, among others.
At the very end of her recommendations to member states, Dubravka Simonovic, the UN Special Rapporteur for Violence against Women, urges all stakeholders to improve inter-sectoral collaboration, as this is the only way to realize the rights of women in childbirth. At the Global RMC Council, we are ready to expand our partnerships to ensure that women and newborns everywhere receive the highest quality care, delivered with respect and dignity.
Photo: White Ribbon Alliance India