Safe Motherhood Initiative
The Birth of Safe Motherhood
In the last 20 years, the issue of safe motherhood has evolved from a neglected issue to an essential and integrated element of the women’s health agenda. The event that set this change in motion was a landmark worldwide movement launched in 1987—the Safe Motherhood Initiative.
Launched at the global Safe Motherhood Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, the Initiative sought to address the near-silent tragedy of women dying during pregnancy and childbirth. It issued an international call to action to cut maternal mortality in half by the year 2000 and led to the formation of an Inter-Agency Group (IAG) for Safe Motherhood.*
A New Way of Seeing
The Safe Motherhood Conference marked a turning point. For the first time ever, the international development community focused on the plight of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth. Finally, maternal health was situated as part of a continuum of improvement of women’s status in the economic, social, and political spheres.
Largely as a result of the initiative and the political momentum it generated, safe motherhood became a central component of program and policies focusing on women’s health and rights. At the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994, maternal mortality was identified as a core component of women’s sexual and reproductive health. At the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Summit in 2000, safe motherhood was situated within the broader context of poverty reduction efforts and overall development efforts, and with MDG 5, maternal health was recognized as a key development goal.
In 2005, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, & Child Health was launched as a larger, broader successor to the Safe Motherhood Inter-Agency Group.
Today, thanks to the Safe Motherhood Initiative and the work it has inspired, we know what works and what doesn’t. We now understand how to save women’s lives. But though we have found a way, we are lacking the will—and the maternal mortality ratio remains intolerably high. The launch of Women Deliver marked twenty years of the Safe Motherhood Initiative. Women Deliver brings together all sectors—education, health, development, equity, human rights, poverty reduction, and micro-finance. We aim to bridge the borders that have separated us and find ways to create the political will to save women and children—and invest in their lives so that they may survive and thrive. By doing that, we fulfill the promise made in Nairobi, Kenya to the world’s women, mothers, and children.
* The Inter-Agency Group for Safe Motherhood included: United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Population Fund, World Health Organization, World Bank, International Planned Parenthood Federation, The Population Council, International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, International Confederation of Midwives, Safe Motherhood Network of Nepal, Regional Prevention of Maternal Mortality Programme (Africa). Family Care International served as the secretariat.