Respectful Maternity Care: Progress for Women and Newborns in Humanitarian Settings

Feb 19, 2019 | Global Secretariat, GS, News

By Stephanie Bowen, Director of Strategic Communication, White Ribbon Alliance

There is growing recognition that positive pregnancy and birth experiences contribute to better health outcomes for mother and newborn, yet disrespect and abuse remains a common occurrence for too many women, especially those in low-resource settings where health systems and care providers are stretched thin. As a leader in respectful maternity careWhite Ribbon Alliance (WRA) has been working across sectors to raise awareness on the importance of guaranteeing respectful maternity care in humanitarian situations, where the resource and security constraints associated with conflict, disease outbreaks and natural disaster can even exacerbate mistreatment in childbirth.

With this backdrop, WRA and American Refugee Committee co-hosted a consultation last summer on respectful maternity care in humanitarian settings, that brought together 85 attendees from UN agencies, international non-governmental organizations, maternal and newborn advocacy groups, and human rights organizations to formulate a new direction for the childbirth experience in humanitarian settings. This first-of-its kind consultation had a clear goal to develop long-term research and advocacy agendas and define immediate actions for responding to mistreatment and fostering respectful care in childbirth. Today, we are happy to report three vital steps forward for women and newborns.

The InterAgency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises (IAWG) is a collaborative coalition that works to expand and strengthen access to quality sexual and reproductive health services for people affected by conflict and natural disaster. IAWG recently released a new Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP), the main document all humanitarian responders follow at the onset of an emergency, with updates focusing squarely on the need for respectful care in emergencies.

It reads in part:

“The MISP forms the starting point for SRH programming and respectful quality of care must be ensured from the start. It is important to note that the components of the MISP form a minimum requirement and should be implemented in all circumstances.”

It also includes a table with human rights guiding principles based on the RMC Charter and other human rights instruments, reaffirming that quality, respectful care is a human right that must be afforded to all women.

IAWG also released a new Field Manual, which includes a chapter on Maternal and Newborn Health with multiple references to RMC.

It reads in part:

“Ensuring respectful maternity care is especially critical in a humanitarian setting, where everyday violence and lack of accountability mechanisms are already affecting both women seeking care and their providers. The care provided has to be acceptable to the population served so that women are not deterred from delivering in a facility with a skilled birth attendant. Psychosocial support in pregnancy and childbirth is also needed to account for the life-changing circumstances in which women find themselves.”

On the advocacy side, we were successful in influencing the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report (A/HRC/39/26) to the Human Rights Council on Rights-Based Approaches to Maternal Mortality and Morbidity in Humanitarian Settings. This resulted in a strong resolution coming from the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/RES/39/13).

These are three important steps forward to ensure that no matter where a woman lives, no matter her circumstances, she will have the opportunity to give birth in safety and security.

To find out more about Respectful Maternity Care, visit our Resources page for further reading and tools:

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