White Ribbon Alliance: Making Leaders Stand By Their Commitments for Women

Photo Courtesy: Arne Hoel / World Bank on Flickr
Photo Courtesy: Arne Hoel / World Bank on Flickr.

There are 828 days left until the Millennium Development Goals should be realized. This week, the United Nations, heads of state, political leaders, NGOs, activists, companies and entrepreneurs are getting together to discuss the progress and what we need to prioritize in the post-2015 agenda.

The international community and national governments have made commitments to improve the health status of women and girls around the world, through universal access to maternal and reproductive health services. However, commitments are not enough in themselves, there needs to be a dramatic change in governance and social norms, in the empowerment of women and girls on a local (and household) level, as well as, an accountability of the promises that have been made. 

The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood is a global network of maternal health advocates, who are holding governments and politicians accountable for their commitments and advocating for sustainable policies and more resources to prevent maternal deaths.

The White Ribbon Alliance stand for accountability and voice.

There are 35 million women of childbearing age in Nigeria. These women have voices, they know what needs to be done. They know that we must focus our investment on women and children to protect the future.

– Dr. Philippa Momah, Nigeria

White Ribbon Alliance understands that we cannot improve the health of women and girls by commitments alone. Women and girls must be empowered and given the opportunity to voice their opinions and hold governments, health centers, and community leaders accountable. In Nigeria, as in other countries, White Ribbon Alliance connects the government and the citizens, creating a coalition of committted individuals who want to see a change in the maternal mortality status of the country. This coalition is bridging the accountability gap, as well as the knowledge gap – ensuring that the government acts, and that the women know about it.

In Malawi, the White Ribbon Alliance is supporting initiatives to train midwives at rural centres, and improving the status of midwives through highlighting stories in the media. In India, they work with mobile technology to connect mothers to care. In Tanzania, they are equipping health workers to provide emergency obstetric care in remote areas. What all of these initiatives have in common is the citizen’s voice and their ability to connect with all levels of government to ensure accountability, and that their right to quality and respectful healthcare is provided.

If we let women lead in the fight for their health, the fight against maternal deaths, we will see a dramatic change in the post-2015 agenda.


Women in Nairobi. Image Courtesy: Tom Spender on Flickr
Women in Nairobi. Image Courtesy: Tom Spender on Flickr

According to the recent statistics from the World Health Organization, at least one woman dies every minute due to complications related to pregnancy or childbirth around the world. This equals almost 300 000 women ever year. A functional health system equipped with skilled personnel is key to saving women’s and children lives. Improvement of maternal health is enshrined in the Millennium Development Goals as one of the essential prerequisites of development and poverty eradication. In Kenya, the maternal deaths currently stand at 488 per 100,000 deliveries.

President Uhuru Kenyatta announced during the Madaraka Day celebrations that women will have access to free maternal services countrywide in public hospitals starting June 1st. The government made budgetary arrangements of US $50,000 for free maternity and prenatal care to mothers giving birth in public health institutions with an aim of reducing maternal and prenatal fatalities. In addition, the government also waived the US $0.25 charge for registration.

Woman in Mathare slum. Image Courtesy: Creative Commons on Flickr.
Woman in Mathare slum. Image Courtesy: Creative Commons on Flickr.

Treasury had already released US $12,500 for the first quarter, April to June, to buy additional equipment such as delivery beds and incubators. And in a Press Release dated June 1, Cabinet Secretary for Health, James Macharia says that every health centre and dispensary will be reimbursed US $32 per delivery while hospitals will receive US $62 per delivery from his ministry. The reimbursement will cover the loss of users’ fees and maternity charges faced by health centres and dispensaries. These measures are expected to promote and increase access to required services to the average Kenyan pregnant woman. They will also increase access, for all Kenyans, to primary healthcare services in government health centers and dispensaries.

The country faces several challenges towards achieving full implementation of free maternal healthcare. For example, the largest public maternity Hospital, Pumwani Hospital, requires an increase in the number of operation theaters from the current two to between about seven to cater for the growing number of women seeking delivery. In addition, many Kenyan public hospitals must improve on two essential fronts – skilled attendants at delivery and availability of essential obstetric and newborn care.

Children in Kenya. Image Courtesy: Kent Yoshimura on Flickr
Image Courtesy: Kent Yoshimura on Flickr

We echo President Uhuru Kenyatta’s words that the policy will improve maternal health as mothers who shunned away from hospitals will now be able to seek skilled care at no cost. Consequently, this will lead to a reduction in birth-related complications such as haemorrhage and obstructed labour.

We look forward to implementation of the free maternity policy and the enhancement of the reproductive health status of all Kenyans by increasing equitable access to reproductive health services.

General Comments:

  • Madaraka Day commemorates the day that Kenya attained independence from the United Kingdom. In 2013, Kenya marked the 50th Madaraka Day Celebration.
  • You can read President Uhuru Kenyatta’s speech during Madaraka Day Celebrations, June 1, 2013.