Mothers’ Rights are Human Rights: Celebrate #IntlMHDay with WRA

Nov 13, 2017 | Nepal, Opinion

By Elena Ateva, Maternal and Newborn Health Policy and Advocacy Advisor, WRA

As we recognize and celebrate International Day for Maternal Health and Rights, White Ribbon Alliance is proud to showcase the work being done throughout its 14 National Alliances to promote and protect women’s rights during pregnancy and childbirth.

First a brief history:

WRA India appealed to the Government of India for a declaration on National Safe Motherhood and subsequently, the government declared April 11 as the National Safe Motherhood Day in 2003. Three years ago, the global community adopted the day as International Day for Maternal Health and Rights. Led by the Center for Health and Gender Equity a call was shared with the UN Secretary General to recognize April 11 as UN Day for Maternal Health and Rights.

The movement for respectful maternity care has grown by leaps and bounds with many more individuals and organizations recognizing the need for a safe, respectful, dignified care at the critical period of pregnancy and childbirth. Thirty organizations have endorsed a commitment with the UN Secretary General’s Every Woman, Every Child movement to work towards the realization of respectful maternity care.

Disrespect and abuse in childbirth affects women in a profound way. It discourages them from accessing skilled care when most needed and may impact their care-seeking behaviors in the future, both for themselves and their children. Most importantly, it violates their basic human rights. A culture of disrespect and abuse impacts providers as well leading to moral distress and burnout. This is why providers, communities and policy-makers must join hands and focus on the structural issues surrounding lack of respectful maternity care that need to be addressed to ensure that every woman, everywhere has her full rights as a human being protected.

White Ribbon Alliances around the globe have been busy in the past year advocating for the rights of women in childbirth and for the rights of providers.

Here is a short snapshot:


WRA Bangladesh has started a self-care initiative to support women to know and demand their rights to direct their own health.


WRA India is working with consumers, providers, research institutions and policy-makers to address the issue of disrespect and abuse in facilities. In addition to initiating the ground-breaking campaign “What Women Want” (‘Hamara Swasthya, Hamari Awaz’), the Alliance is working with the Trained Nurses Association of India for sensitization of nurses and midwives towards the need for RMC.

WRA India is also advocating with parliamentarian to increase the budget allocations for maternal health.


APPI (WRA Indonesia) works closely with the Indonesia Midwifery Association and the more than 200,000 midwives in the country, supporting young midwives to find jobs after graduation to be respected as independent professionals.


WRA Kenya is spending the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights discussing the elimination of human rights abuses in Kenyan hospitals, and the implementation of free, national maternity care services with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR).

WRA Kenya has organized various educative forums for adolescents and youth particularly on sexual and reproductive rights as essential rights for young women. The preparatory forums were held with the girls football clubs drawn from the informal settlements and presented an unique opportunity to discuss their rights and the need to unify their voices to hold local leaders to account.


WRA Malawi is translating and disseminating the RMC Charter so citizens can know and demand their rights in childbirth. The Alliance is also advocating for recognition of the profession of the midwife and for more positions for midwives to be established in the country where the average ratio is one midwife per more than 5000 women of reproductive age. WRA Malawi believes it is critical to advocate both for respectful maternity care and midwifery, as the overall shortage of midwives, coupled with poor working conditions and status, are affecting the provision of high-quality maternity care for women.


In the past year, Safe Motherhood Network Federation Nepal (WRA Nepal)has engaged parliamentarians to advocate for the inclusion of the Respectful Maternity Care Charter in the Safe Motherhood and Newborn Healthcare bill. Some parliamentarians shared stories of abuse and disrespect that they have experienced themselves, highlighting the fact that the problem is pervasive and does not spare anyone, no matter the social, geographical or economic characteristics.


Nigeria was the first country to adopt the Respectful Maternity Care Charteras the standard of practice for medical professionals. WRA Nigeria has organized community meetings with hundreds of citizens to discuss the rights of citizens including access to quality health services and the need for accountability mechanisms to ensure that the needs of citizens and healthcare providers are met.

‘’The few health workers here are overburdened and they don’t have respect for us. The other day, a woman delivered on the floor because she was not attended to. All they could do was to accuse her of messing up the place with blood.’’


WRA Pakistan is raising the awareness of Respectful Maternity Care among citizens in Singh province. With the help of social media, text messages, radio programs and champions for RMC, WRA Pakistan would like all citizens to know and demand their rights to respectful maternity care and to put the issue front and center on the agenda of the Singh parliament.


WRA Sweden is partnering with an NGO in Romania to increase access to maternal services for minority groups. This partnership of midwives, doctors, and nurses in a hospital in Arad, north-west Romania, works to increase the understanding of the health workers, hospital management and Ministry of Health staff about the skills, expertise and benefits of having midwives as primary health care providers for ante- and post-natal care and during birth. The recognition of midwives creates a respectful environment for both providers and childbearing women.


The provision of comprehensive emergency obstetric and newborn care (CEmONC) is central to the efforts of WRA Tanzania to advocate that the rights of all women are upheld in pregnancy and childbirth. The Alliance worked to ensure that CEmONC services are adequately budgeted for and that citizens understand and claim their rights for quality life-saving care. WRA Tanzania members climbed mountains to show that even one death in childbirth is one too many and is a violation of basic human rights.


WRA Uganda is adding to the power of their previous successful campaigns by empowering young people to stand up for their rights to respectful, youth-friendly services in order to address the high rates of teenage pregnancy, which denies many girls their right to education. They are working with Ministries of Health, Education, Gender, and Finance to further the plan.


In this time of crisis, WRA Yemen is doing what they can to ensure women have access to information and support during pregnancy and childbirth.


WRA Zimbabwe is introducing a video on respectful maternity care as an educational tool for midwifery students, staff and patients. The goal of the campaign is for women to experience women centered maternity care which is their right. WRA Zimbabwe is working towards the inclusion of respectful maternity care standard in the curricula to ensure that RMC is part of the national roadmap and promoted as best practice.

White Ribbon Alliance is showing the world that, together, we can ensure a future for mothers that upholds their right to health, dignity, and respectful maternity care.

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