Women around the world have had to struggle for decades, for centuries, to achieve equal rights and to achieve the human rights every man and woman deserves. And while the struggle has resulted in many positive steps forward, there are still areas where women are considered less than their male counterparts.
Their lives are considered less important. Why else would the world allow over 560,000 women to die in pregnancy and childbirth every year? I often think, “If it were men who got pregnant, men who lay on steel delivery tables every day, who bled and hemorrhaged and died… would governments be standing idly by?”
The truth is: maternal health is a human right. The right of all women to quality health care must be ensured to prevent the deluge of avoidable maternal deaths and injuries that happen every day. Maternal health care must be available, accessible, and of high quality. When countries fail to provide such care, it is a violation of women’s rights to life, health, equality, and non-discrimination.
Women also have a right to make informed and voluntary reproductive health decisions based on accurate information; to prevent unintended pregnancies; to be free from gender-based discrimination and violence; to have access to HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment, and care; and to participate in the planning and implementation of polices that make pregnancy and childbirth safer. All women are entitled to the care they need to survive pregnancy and childbirth. Yet huge disparities exist between the rich and poor.
In Canada, where education, family planning, and health care services are widely available to all, one out of 11,000 women dies from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. In Niger, where poverty and a shattered health care system are combined with a high fertility rate, pregnancy-related causes will kill one of every seven women. Is this fair? Is this right?
Governments have an obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill women’s health. They have an obligation to take action to prevent maternal deaths. Yet too many governments are doing too little to save the lives of women and mothers.
It’s time to put these governing bodies on notice that we will not watch silently as women die and their rights are consistently violated. Download a copy of the Women Deliver advocacy tool, “Focus on 5: Women’s Health and the MDGs,” and join us in the fight for safe pregnancies and childbirths around the world. Join us in the fight for women’s rights.