Geneva – The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a landmark resolution today, recognizing maternal death and illness as a pressing human rights concern. Over 70 UN member states (including the US) co-sponsored this resolution, led by Colombia and New Zealand.
Through the Human Rights Council resolution, governments recognize that the elimination of maternal mortality and morbidity requires the effective promotion and protection of women and girls' human rights, including their rights to life; to be equal in dignity; to education; to be free to seek, receive, and impart information; to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress; to freedom from discrimination; and to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including sexual and reproductive health.
"Adolescent girls and young women need greater access to information, education, services and resources that will empower them to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health, including contraceptive use, safe abortion, birth spacing, pre- and post- natal care, and management of pregnancy and childbirth related complications," said Neha Sood, Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights' member from India. "This resolution highlights the need for governments to promote and protect women and girls' rights to seek and receive such information, education and services and have access to resources."
Furthermore, the resolution stresses that a human rights-based approach makes efforts against maternal mortality and morbidity more effective and sustainable. The resolution commissions a study by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to examine the human rights dimensions of preventable maternal mortality and morbidity, and how the Council can contribute to addressing this problem.
"Socio-cultural practices such as early marriage, early pregnancy, violence, female genital mutilation, marginalization in decision-making regarding issues that concern women, low status of women within the African family, and the fact that women are not enabled or permitted to plan their pregnancies - each of these factors leads to maternal mortality, an issue that can be addressed and prevented if we tackle it as a human rights issue," said Soyata Maiga U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of women in Africa.
Thoraya Obaid, UNFPA Executive Director, noted that the resolution comes at a critical time. The global community is recognizing the fact that progress towards improving maternal health is lagging behind other development issues. "Adoption of this resolution is an important step," she added, "but how much impact it will have depends on whether the international community—donors, governments and civil society—join efforts to improve the human rights of women and girls all over the world."
Read the resolution on maternal mortality here.