Working with Politicians and Local Leaders to Improve Maternal Health

Mar 7, 2013 | Global Secretariat, Indonesia, Nepal, News, Tanzania, Uganda

In 2010 and 2011, maternal health campaigners gave ourselves a pat on the back for putting maternal health on the global agenda and generating over $70bn in new commitments to improve maternal and newborn health. This was no small accomplishment as for decades maternal health was a largely invisible global scandal.

But what does this all mean if politicians and local leaders don’t know about these promises? In a recent meeting with Joseph Mbilinyi aka Sugu, a Member of Parliament, a tireless campaigner for health equality, and a leading rap artist in Tanzania, he told us that he was shocked to learn that 26 women die every day in pregnancy or childbirth in his country.  If Members of Parliament are unaware of the commitments that their heads of state have made in global forums, and if they are unaware of the reality for pregnant women and mothers in their constituency, then who will make it a priority to ensure that governments are upholding their commitments to maternal health?

Joseph Mbilinyi has committed to pushing the government of Tanzania to deliver on their commitments. 

We, as civil society and as change makers against this global injustice must take a stand and work with our elected representatives and local leaders. We must not assume, but ensure, that they know the reality for women in their constituency and we must also make clear the critical role that they can play in ensuring that national commitments have a true impact in the communities where they are needed most. We need to bring the facts – and the promises – home to those who live and breath the political system because when there is political will, change can happen. In Sri Lanka, maternal deaths decreased dramatically when the government prioritized pregnant women for skilled care. It was political will that made a difference – as was the case in Rwanda, Thailand and Honduras.

As individuals or organizations, as journalists, bankers, midwives or actors, in whatever role we play, as a member of The White Ribbon Alliance, let us work with politicians. Let’s mobilize our politicians so that they are aware of the facts, of what is happening in their regions and of what steps they must take to move towards a world where women do not die giving life. And where politicians are already engaged and leading the charge, let’s celebrate their efforts and let’s help them to get their message out.

This month, in the lead up to International Women’s Day and the Inter Parliamentary Union, we are calling on WRA members to reach out to your politicians and local leaders. In Nepal, WRA members are writing letters to EVERY SINGLE member of parliament (601 in total) to highlight the need for a greater leadership in passing the National Safe Motherhood Bill. In Indonesia, WRA members will host an event on International Women’s Day with Parliamentarians to discuss how they can work together and push collectively for change.

As an individual or as a group, sending letters, making appointments with leaders, and speaking to the media DOES make a vital difference in making change happen.  In Uganda last year, the membership in Kabale district worked with the District Health Officer, the local politicians and the Ministry of Finance to increase the numbers of midwives by 30%!  This was achieved by simply pushing the right people at the right time and in the right direction – an informed petition CAN make all the difference.

Make sure your voice is heard – it counts.

Kabale members sent a petition – informed by the District Health Officer – to their politician requesting that health workers who had been employed be put on the payroll. The politician engaged with the Ministry of Finance and within one month of the petition, there were 30% more midwives on the payroll. 

Local leaders are just as important to engage as politicians. When WRA members in Zambia discussed maternal health with Chief Mumena, he decided that no more women would die from pregnancy in his village, and that was that. Chief Mumena made provisions for every pregnant woman to have dedicated health care and not one woman in his village has died during pregnancy or childbirth since.

We all have a very important part to play in making motherhood safe for women around the world.  Join us in reaching out to politicians and local leaders and asking them to play their part. Make your voice heard and TAKE ACTION.

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