Respectful Maternity Care The Universal Rights of Childbearing Women
Imagine the personal treatment you would expect from a maternity care provider entrusted to help you or a woman you love give birth. In every country and community worldwide, pregnancy and childbirth are momentous events in the lives of women and families and represent a time of intense vulnerability. Naturally, we envision a relationship characterized by caring, empathy, support, trust, confidence, and empowerment, as well as gentle, respectful, and effective communication to enable informed decision making.
Unfortunately, too many women experience care that does not match this image. Pregnant women seeking maternity care instead too often receive ill treatment that ranges from relatively subtle disrespect of their autonomy and dignity to outright abuse: physical assault, verbal insults, discrimination, abandonment, or detention in facilities for failure to pay. The concept of “safe motherhood” is usually restricted to physical safety, but safe motherhood is more than the prevention of death and disability; it is respect for every woman’s humanity, feelings, choices, and preferences. Research shows that fear of ill treatment by maternity caregivers can be a greater deterrent to the use of skilled care than cost or distance, other widely recognized barriers.
Disrespect and abuse of women during maternity care is a problem that has been obscured by a "veil of silence".
This month we are pleased to launch powerful new materials that convey the message that RESPECTFUL MATERNITY CARE is every woman’s right.
In 2011, with support from the USAID Health Policy Project, WRA convened a multi-sector group with expertise bridging research, educational, clinical, human rights, and global and national advocacy perspectives. Together, with input from project partners and representatives from WRA National Alliances around the globe, we developed the Respectful Maternity Care Charter: The Universal Rights of Childbearing Women.
Human rights are fundamental entitlements due to all people, recognized by societies and governments and held up in international declarations and conventions. To date, no universal charter or instrument makes clear how human rights are part of the childbearing process or affirms their application to childbearing women as basic, inalienable human rights. Seven rights are included, drawn from the categories of disrespect and abuse identified by Bowser and Hill (2010) in their landscape analysis. All these rights are grounded in international or multinational human rights instruments. By drawing on relevant extracts from established human rights instruments, the Charter demonstrates the legitimate place of maternal health rights within the broader context of human rights.
By design, the Respectful Maternity Care Charter focuses specifically on the interpersonal aspects of care received by women seeking maternity services. Not only are these encounters the vehicle for essential and potentially lifesaving health services, women’s experiences with caregivers at this time can transmit strength and comfort or inflict lasting damage and emotional trauma. Either way, women’s memories of their childbearing experiences stay with them for a lifetime and are often shared with other women, contributing to a climate of confidence or doubt around childbearing.
The charter builds a strong positive global standard for Respectful Maternity Care to affirm the legitimacy of maternal health rights as basic human rights issues grounded in key international declarations. It is our hope that this charter will be used as a platform to talk about the problem of disrespect and abuse during maternity care within a positive, right-based framework, so we can start to lift the “Veil of Silence” on this issue.
We hope the Charter can be used to:
- Raise awareness of the problem in a way that avoids blaming and/or shaming individuals;
- Illustrate that the rights of childbearing women have already been recognized in guarantees of human rights;
- Provide a tool for advocacy at all levels and a basis for accountability; and,
- Provide a platform for building childbearing women’s sense of entitlement to quality maternity care by aligning it with international human rights
And now we are calling on you to join us by learning more and engaging your communities to speak out and break the silence.
WRA is calling on a global community of concern—people coming together from across relevant sectors (research, clinical service delivery and education, human rights and civil society advocacy) and from countries around the world-- to tackle disrespect and abuse in maternity care. We need effective programs, policies, advocacy, and social watch activities to put an end to disrespect and abuse of women during maternity care. In each setting and country, we can work together to bring this problem into the open: share information, jointly strategize, and play our part, each of us to ensure that every woman's right to respectful care at birth is upheld.
JOIN US: FIND OUT! SPEAK OUT!
Click on the image below for more information and tools to help you take action.