Post written by Serra Sippel and Bergen Cooper.
The International Day for Maternal Health and Rights was launched in 2014 by the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) with other global sexual and reproductive health and rights organizations with support growing every year since.
On behalf of the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights Steering Committee (including the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Ibis Reproductive Health, Maternal Health Task Force, Pathfinder International, and The White Ribbon Alliance) we are calling on the United Nations to support universal, comprehensive, respectful, and rights-based maternal health by officially recognizing April 11th as International Day for Maternal Health and Rights.
Maternal rights violations continue to persist and the United Nations’ recognition of this day would bring much-needed attention and funding to address health and rights challenges so many women face.
Approximately 303,000 women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth each year, and most of these deaths are preventable. Over the past decade the evidence for how women too often experience disrespect and abuse during childbirth has grown. Women’s experiences in pregnancy and childbirth are complex. Where they live, their provider experience, local laws and customs are all factors in what makes up each woman’s unique experience. These factors can negatively affect women and we must stand with them and their right to respectful care.
Supporting maternal health and rights not only empowers women but their children and communities too. The Zika virus, to take just one example, is a threat to women, children, and families around the world. It threatens women during pregnancy, childbirth, and post-partum. However, the World Health Organization no longer classifies it as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” There is good cause for concern that Zika will soon be ignored, leaving women without critical information and care. Official recognition of the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights would help alleviate this problem.
A new threat to maternal health and rights is President Trump’s global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy. The new policy prohibits foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive U.S. global health assistance from using non-U.S. funds to counsel, refer or provide women with information or services related to abortion. Studies of past global gag rules have shown that the policy is associated with increased unsafe abortion and decreased access to contraceptives. With the new global gag rule expanding across all global health assistance, we anticipate that the health impact on women trying to space pregnancies safely and those who are pregnant could be dire.
The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and other countries have already stepped up to help fill the funding gap that Trump’s global gag rule has left when it comes to life-saving reproductive health services. By recognizing April 11th as International Maternal Health and Rights Day, the United Nations would signal to the world that it also intends to increase its attention to the health and rights of women globally.
The United Nations has the power to amplify the voices of women worldwide. This year, as we commemorate the fourth annual International Day for Maternal Health and Rights, we look to you for timely, necessary, and permanent official recognition.
Cover photo credit: Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)