Episode 06

Birth Justice & the Right to Healthcare

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Too often, treating women with respect is seen as a luxury. It is not. Violations of human rights during childbirth are all too common in labor wards, hurting women’s chances of surviving pregnancy and childbirth.

This episode of White Ribbon Alliance’s Brave Voices, Bold Actions podcast explores Article 6 of the Respectful Maternity Care Charter, and the human right to healthcare and to the highest attainable level of health.

We start with two very different experiences of birth, from Elvia Rosario Muñoz Martínez in Mexico and Helen Abdul from Nigeria. Then we talk with Birth Justice activist Naa Hammond, and Australian midwife and Birthing on Country advocate Cherisse Buzzacott, about what needs to be done to ensure every mother, everywhere, receives quality healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth.

Together, we have the power to destroy the structures that harm women during pregnancy and childbirth!

  • What is Birth Justice, and what does it look like in practice?
  • How can donors and governments ensure women’s voices are heard and their rights are protected during childbirth?
  • What is Birthing on Country, and how is it helping Aboriginal mothers in Australia during pregnancy and childbirth?
  • How can the Respectful Maternity Care Charter save the lives of women across the world?

Diana Copeland (00:03): Too often, treating women with respect is seen as a luxury. It is not. Respectful care and a life free from abuse is due to every woman and every health system around the world, no matter what. Not only is respectful care a right, it is also vitally important to improving women's chances of surviving pregnancy and childbirth. On White Ribbon Alliance's Brave Voices, Bold Actions podcast, we're taking a close look, episode by episode, at the 10 basic rights women and newborns are due in childbirth. We'll use the Respectful Maternity Care Charter as our guide. Every episode, we'll dive into each one of 10 articles, exploring what respectful care really looks like. My name is Diana Copeland, and I work with White Ribbon Alliance, a locally led, globally connected grassroots movement, advocating for the health and rights of women and newborns. In each episode of the Brave Voices, Bold Actions podcast, I'll be joined by White Ribbon Alliance colleagues from around the world, global human rights advocates and community leaders creating real change.

Diana Copeland (01:04): Together, we'll show you how to advocate successfully for yourself and for others wherever you are. Today, we are examining Article 6 of the Respectful Maternity Care Charter and the human right to healthcare with two special guests: Naa Hammond leads the Birth Justice Fund and is based in New York City. And, Cherisse Buzzacott is an Aboriginal midwife and Birthing on Country advocate from Alice Springs, Australia. We'll also be chatting with human rights lawyer and our resident expert on respectful care, Elena Ateva. But first, what does the right to the highest quality care look like? And what happens when that right is not upheld. Elvia Rosario Muñoz Martínez is an indigenous woman from San Cristobal, in Chiapas, Mexico. During her first pregnancy, Elvia have received low quality and inattentive care. This led to tragic results.

Elvia Rosario Muñoz Martínez (02:07): In the health center, from there, the care is very bad. The attitude from the people is bad. The care and the way I was touched, and even the things I was told were not right. And in fact, that's how I lost the baby from my first pregnancy. And he died nine hours after he was born because there were problems that they did not detect, not even with their ultrasounds and their tests.

Diana Copeland (02:31): At her monthly appointments, Elvia said she did not receive the attention she needed to detect problems with her pregnancy. On top of that, Elvia says the actual environment of the hospital was traumatic.

Elvia Rosario Muñoz Martínez (02:44): Well, in a hospital, you are alone. That is totally alone. You don't have anyone. In other words, there are many people, and that is the bad thing, that there are many people, and yet you feel totally alone. Nobody is there to support you. Even the violence in the hospital, which we all know the way their words hurt you. They tell you don't complain or things like that, and they conduct the episiotomy, which is done without consulting, without asking. Well, as far as I know, I know that is violence. So as of now, I do understand that all those things, they block you and to make childbirth much more difficult, much more complicated. And then, in the end, we women end up having an experience that I say is traumatic.

Diana Copeland (03:32): Low quality healthcare and facilities is a major problem faced by many women, but sometimes, it can feel impossible even to get through the door of a hospital. Helen Abdul is a 24 year old mother from Nigeria.

Helen Abdul (03:45):

I live in Niger State, Chachanga Local Government Area of Niger State.

Diana Copeland (03:51):

Helen gave birth to her second child last September. Her labor pains started suddenly.

Helen Abdul (03:57): I didn't bother because the delivery date was two weeks away. And so, I was confident. I just kept doing my chores. Before I knew it, I felt the pain, the third time, and this time it was so serious. I screamed for help. I couldn't just ignore it, and my neighbors running, four women, four of them.

Diana Copeland (04:23): Helen's neighbors arranged for her to be taken to the health center where she was registered. But when they arrived, they are told that the hospital closed an hour ago. Helen's phone calls were not getting through to her husband. So the women decided to try another hospital, 45 minutes away. So they squeezed into the back of the car.

Helen Abdul (04:41): The pain. The pain was so severe, 45 minutes trip feels like 24 hours.

Diana Copeland (04:51): After that ordeal, Helen and her neighbors finally arrived at the second hospital.

Helen Abdul (04:56): We were told that the midwife had just stepped out. We were also told that the doctor wasn't even on shift. And by this time, I felt I was going to die along with my child.

Diana Copeland (05:11): They decided to try another final, third hospital.

Helen Abdul (05:15): And on our way, my water broke. At this point, my neighbors were screaming and crying to go for help. Thankfully, the hospital wasn't very far from where we were at the time. I was rushed into the labor room, and there was this calm, nice midwife, and in less than 30 minutes my son was born. Father called him Lucky, Lucky was truly lucky.

Diana Copeland (05:49): Article 6 of the Respectful Maternity Care Charter says that everyone has the right to health care and to the highest attainable level of health. No one may prevent you or your newborn from getting the healthcare needed or deny or withhold care from either of you. You and your newborn are entitled to the highest quality care provided in a timely manner in a clean and safe environment by providers who are trained in current best practices. How can we make sure that all women everywhere can have the highest possible level of care during pregnancy and childbirth?

Diana Copeland (06:28): Joining us in our discussion on the right to health care is Naa Hammond. Naa is a doula in training, community herbalist and program officer at the Groundswell Fund, where she leads the Birth Justice Fund, which is focused on eliminating pregnancy and birth outcome disparities faced by people of color through access to culturally relevant birthing options, advocacy and support for midwives, doulas and other birth workers of color. Naa was born and raised in Zimbabwe as the child of Ghanaian immigrants, and now lives in New York City. Welcome Naa.

Naa Hammond (07:01): Thanks Diana.

Diana Copeland (07:03): So Naa, you're an officer at the Groundswell Fund and a doula in training. You seem to really eat, sleep, breathe, birth justice and reproductive rights. What led you down this path?

Naa Hammond (07:12): So Groundswell Fund is a national foundation that resources and strengthens intersectional organizing by women of color and trans people of color in the US. So in relation to Article 6 with everyone has the right to healthcare and to attain the highest level of health, Groundswell's Birth Justice Fund really lived into that vision, the fund resources, grassroots organizations that are seeking to reduce and eliminate disparities in pregnancy birth and postpartum outcomes for the people who face the highest disparities in this country, so women of color, low income women, young folks, and transgender people. I would say that for me, this work feels deeply personal. When I was growing up in Zimbabwe, my father was an OB/GYN. And when I moved to the United States, I believed I was entering a country with the best healthcare. The richest country in the world that spends more on healthcare than any other global North nation is not actually a safe place for me to give birth as a black woman because of racism in the healthcare system. And I think the same is true for other people of color here.

Diana Copeland (08:19):

So we've talked about birth justice and activism, but how did you realize you also wanted to be a doula?

Naa Hammond (08:26): Yeah, so I'm a student doula right now, and I would say that the work of Groundswell and our Birth Justice Fund actually brought me to that work. I traditionally had done work in grassroots organizing around economic and racial justice issues in New York City, one of them being criminalization and police violence, and it has been really exciting to learn about the reproductive justice movement and to learn specifically about the work that birth workers of color are doing across the US. And I live in New York City, so one of the organizations we support, Ancient Song Doula Services, actually has a program where they are working in Rikers Island, which is one of the largest jails in the US, and supporting pregnant folks and postpartum folks and folks who are able to keep their babies with them in jail as well in that really special and vulnerable time.

Naa Hammond (09:20): And I've always been really excited about the work that they're doing and tried to support it. And I just, as a supporter in the community, living in the same city with them and really have had a calling over the last two years to actually look at becoming a doula myself and really providing support to many of my communities who don't actually have access to the support of doulas who actually share their experiences. So especially looking at black women, especially looking at queer people and queer families, and my partner is trans and really wanting to offer care that actually understands what our lives are like to the folks that I'm supporting.

Diana Copeland (10:07): What I think is really interesting about this conversation and about the importance of involving midwives and doulas within communities of color is that it sometimes feels like that might be the only access that they have to quality care within America. And I'm curious about why this has been allowed to happen over the past decades.

Naa Hammond (10:37): So I think the problem, the root of the problem, is that in the US, a lot of foundation funding for reproductive rights and health has tended to focus on one issue, abortion, and abortion is a critical issue for Groundswell. I would say all of our Birth Justice grantees and our Reproductive Justice grantees champion abortion as well. And we know that efforts to advance any single issue are stronger when they include other intersectional issues similar to that Audre Lorde quote, which says, "There is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives." So I'd say we've seen really amazing examples of birth justice organizations really blending together an agenda that includes maternal health, but then also abortion and advancing really effective campaigns to advance both maternal health and abortion in this country, yet efforts like that are not necessarily being funded at the high levels that they need to be to actually create impact. And most of the funding has focused on work for abortion. And I would say there's a real lack of awareness about maternal health and the reproductive rights movement overall, and a lot of that comes from funders not resourcing organizations to actually focus on maternal health within the US as well.

Diana Copeland (12:01): Actually, I would like to talk about the Funding Birth Justice: Addressing Maternal Infant Health Disparities in the US by Resourcing Birth Workers of Color position paper that was published in the larger Funding Equity anthology. I really found that you were able to shine a powerful light on how the US healthcare system is failing women of color. I would like to know, once people read this article, which is fantastic, what actions do you hope that they're going to take afterwards?

Naa Hammond (12:29): Yeah, thanks for that question, Diana. So after reading the Funding Equity publication, and all the articles are fantastic, I hope that donors are going to look at their portfolios and ask themselves why they aren't giving more money to work that's led by birth workers of color who are leading birth justice work in the US. The solutions are actually there for the crisis that is happening in the US around birth, and they're just happening at the grassroots. And one of the things we share very often is that there isn't a lack of funding in the US. In fact, the US spends more on healthcare than any other global North nation, right? But there is a lack of a willingness and a political will to direct the funding towards the solutions that are actually working, solutions that are being led by midwives and doulas and other birth workers who are in communities and often are doing work on a shoestring budget.

Naa Hammond (13:30): One of the organizations that we support at Groundswell is called Commonsense Childbirth, and Commonsense Childbirth is run by Jennie Joseph who is a legendary black midwife. And she serves over a thousand women of color each year in central Florida. And Commonsense Childbirth has reduced its preterm birth rate for black women to 0%. And this is compared to a state average of 14.2%. It's an easy and empowering model. She operates easy access clinics that provide prenatal care and teach women about their bodies, how to advocate for themselves within the healthcare system. And then, in addition, Commonsense Childbirth is supporting dozens of out of hospital births at its birth center, and then offering doulas to support clients in hospitals where the majority of them give birth. Jennie's also training other midwives and birth workers as well, so really creating that pipeline of midwives and doulas of color into the profession.

Naa Hammond (14:30): And I often think about organizations like Jennie's, about our birth justice groups on the ground. And what would it look like if community based grassroots efforts like this were funded to scale? I think very often funders will bypass organizations on the ground and feel more comfortable funding national, often white led institutions to try to find a solution to the staggering disparities that we see facing black women, indigenous women and other women of color and trans folks as well. But instead of resourcing those organizations that often have also been part of the problem in creating these disparities, what would it look like to actually fund groups on the ground that have been working in communities with disparities and demonstrating and proving that they're able to address those disparities head on?

Diana Copeland (15:25): I think that was extremely powerful how you phrased it. The solutions are available. We just need to look in the right place.

Naa Hammond (15:33): Yeah. And actually, Diana, a few days ago in the New York Times, an article came out, I believe it was by Echoing Green and Bridgespan Group. And it wasn't specific to birth justice, but they did an article called In Philanthropy, Race Is Still a Factor in Who Gets What, and they did a study that found that nonprofits that are led by black and Latino directors lag behind in funding, lag behind their peers who are white in funding prospects. And I think that is a trend that we see repeatedly in every sector, including in the issues around birth justice and maternal health, and it's something that we have to change if we're actually going to do anything about addressing these disparities.

Diana Copeland (16:16): Thanks for joining the podcast, and listeners can find links to more information on the Groundswell Fund and Funding Equity: Birth Justice and Human Rights and Maternal and Infant Health in this episode's show notes.

Diana Copeland (16:29): Joining us in our discussion on the rights of the highest attainable level of health is Cherisse Buzzacott. Cherisse is Noranda, Aboriginal woman raised in Alice Springs, Australia, a mother and a midwife. She works clinically at the local Alice Springs hospital in all areas of maternity care. As a mother of four, she is currently on maternity leave after having her son Angus. Cherisse has had her own traumatic experiences with maternity care. She wants to make sure other women are supported during birth. Most recently, Cherisse was employed as the project officer with the Australian College of Midwives leading the birthing on country project. Currently, Cherisse is the chair of the Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Charitable Trust, providing scholarships to student midwives and qualified midwives, furthering their professional development opportunities. Welcome Cherisse.

Cherisse Buzzacott (17:20): Thank you.

Diana Copeland (17:20): Can you tell us a little bit about maybe something that you want people to know about you?

Cherisse Buzzacott (17:26): I'm a midwife in Alice Springs, which is in the Northern territory, which is in central Australia. I'm actually an Aboriginal woman. So first and foremost, an Arrernte woman. I live on my own traditional country. I live out west of the town of Alice Springs. So I feel really blessed to be a part of Aboriginal culture, especially in my community and being a midwife, we had traditional midwives, and how we're reconnecting with those traditional midwifery skills. And also, with me being an Aboriginal midwife and looking after Aboriginal women, how can we interact using that cultural strength that allowed women to birth hundreds of years ago in the bush. We're now bringing it into modern society, into hospitals. So for me, that's really important is culture is embedded in everything we do.

Diana Copeland (18:27): Could you tell us a little bit about what made you become a midwife in the first place?

Cherisse Buzzacott (18:31): I heard about midwifery when I was in year nine in school. So I would have been about maybe 14 or 15, and we had some university people come and speak to us and tell us about midwifery. And so I just thought, wow, it's sounds amazing looking after babies, sounds like fun. I'm helping women. I have an interest in bettering my community as Aboriginal people. So I wanted to work in Aboriginal health. I just didn't know what, and then midwifery got my attention. So I said, I'm going to go to university to become a midwife. In terms of health, we have a really great health system. We've got, maternal and child health is on par with many of the other Western countries that probably one of the better countries to be pregnant and have a baby.

Cherisse Buzzacott (19:22): But for Aboriginal people, it's not so great. We have a higher mortality, morbidity rate for mothers and children and women that are pregnant and in childbirth. So for me, it was quite important that this was a way that I could fulfill wanting to help my community and doing something that I love. And once I started practicing midwifery, I fell in love with it. And I really, even to this day, it is my passion, whether I stick with it clinically or move into teaching or research, I feel like this is going to be a lifelong commitment as a midwife for me.

Diana Copeland (20:03): I love that. Every time I meet a midwife, they're the most passionate, wonderful people.

Cherisse Buzzacott (20:08): I feel the same when I meet with midwives, and once we get into it, we'll talk about midwifery all day, and my partner says it quite a lot. He refuses to come to midwife gatherings where I'm with friends, or even just afternoon coffee because he goes, "Ah, you always start talking about midwifery stuff." And I'm like, "Yeah, we can't help ourselves." We're just so passionate about what we do, and it shows in everything that I do. I'm always thinking, I always have a midwife hat on and everything, every situation. When I see women walking down the street, and they're so excited, and they remember my name or a different variation of my name, they'll call out to me, and, "This is my baby." They'll be pointing. So for me, that's how I've made an impact. To me, that feels like that's an achievement within itself because women do not attend care if they don't feel safe, if they don't have a relationship with a caregiver for a number of reasons, if they've had a bad experience, if they suffered racism.

Cherisse Buzzacott (21:09): So just knowing that there's one person or one face that you know, or a name that you can mention, you can start to build on that relationship. So hopefully, they've gone in thinking that they were going to see me, that then been greeted by one of my colleagues, who's then taken them under their wing or said something really nice to them that made them think, I really want to come back and see you next week for my next appointment, or I really want to come back and have my ultrasound because this midwife was so nice to me. For me, that's the start that most women need just to get in the door because we can provide really great, top level, culturally appropriate, culturally safe care. We can provide that to any woman and family and baby, but at the end of the day, we need to get that woman into the service, so she needs to be able to engage with that service as the first point.

Diana Copeland (21:58): You are a Birthing on Country advocate. Can you let us know what birthing on country is, how it got started? And also, why is it so important?

Cherisse Buzzacott (22:06): So mortality, morbidity rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women was third rate. We had a lot of women dying, receiving care, postnatal deaths and babies, free admissions to hospital, labor flights, and things like that. So basically, we formed by the birthing on country partnership. We had a partnership of Aboriginal organizations that were willing to implement Birthing on Country. So the definition for Birthing on Country is a metaphor for the best start in life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies and their families. It provides an appropriate transition to motherhood and parenting and an integrated holistic and culturally appropriate model of care for all. And the country part of it means two things. The country part of it means allowing women to birth on their own country. So where they come from and also country as in birthing in a more, I guess, cultural sense in that they are connected to the country in which they're born or able to then go back to the country of where their origin is.

Cherisse Buzzacott (23:07): So country, as in, for an example, is in Alice Springs, we have a lot of remote communities, women traveling into town at about 34, 36, 38 weeks. So anywhere between two to four weeks, two to six weeks, they're traveling into Alice Springs early. They're on their own. So they already, they're in a different country as in they're on different traditional lands. There's no language speakers, it's not their family homes, or they don't have any family. They've got no support, partner and other children might be left back in the community because obviously a long length of stay in town, it could be a financial burden to the family trying to come into town. Often, they're driving six to 10 hours to get here. Birth is not just physical. There's a whole lot of emotional and mental, psychosocial aspects to it.

Cherisse Buzzacott (24:03): A woman who's worried, concerned about the care of her children hundreds of kilometers away, she's not going to birth very well. She's not going to put a hundred percent into breastfeeding a baby. If she's really concerned about getting back to country, she might just say, "The baby's not gaining weight." She might say, "Oh, well, I am just going to give baby bottles. I need to get out of here. I need to get it back to my other kids." So how can we then support that woman throughout that process. And that's how Birthing on Country works. It's by Aboriginal women, for Aboriginal women and their families. Already it's coming to life. They're having a smoking ceremony for babies born on the country, which is a traditional practice that hadn't been around for so many hundreds of years because of colonization that had all those practices. Practices had been eradicated or mostly forgotten, but now they're reviving those. So they're almost having a rebirthing of their own through these Aboriginal women that are saying, "Well, look, I really want that for my baby." And, "Can we create something that can now be passed onto our babies for when they have their children?" It's Aboriginal women creating a service for Aboriginal women, if that makes sense.

Diana Copeland (25:19): It totally does, and it sounds fantastic. And I also imagine that it would be improving birth outcomes.

Cherisse Buzzacott (25:24): Yeah. It's already showing. 60%/halved the preterm birth rate, fewer admissions for newborns within the first eight weeks, women antenatal smoking, so mothers smoking during pregnancy, that had dropped dramatically. So they're already showing, in a small cohort, but significant changes that can occur. So this is wanting to put it on a larger scale and are saying, "Look, let's just go national with it." We've got nothing to lose basically, and Birthing on Country was a bit of a taboo. People would rarely talk about it, and people did think it was just us wanting to go and birth out the back under the tree. Now, people can see it, and they actually value it, and they know it's something real, and they know that it can actually make a difference. So these women's voices, they're being validated by the work.

Diana Copeland (26:22): Thank you so much. That was an incredible amount of information, and I feel totally inspired as well. So thank you so much for coming on.

Cherisse Buzzacott (26:31): Thank you so much for having me. I feel like I've been on maternity leave for the last little while, six months, eight months, but I'm so inspired. I'm so ready to get back into it now.

Diana Copeland (26:45): And now, we turn to Elena Ateva, a human rights lawyer and the convener of the Respectful Maternity Care Council to learn more about the human right to healthcare. Welcome Elena.

Elena Ateva (26:55): Hi Diana.

Diana Copeland (26:56): Hi. So really excited to have you on to talk about the rights of healthcare to the highest attainable level of health.

Elena Ateva (27:03): This is, this is such an important right, and I'm very happy to be able to join here and talk a little bit more about what it means. When we think about the right to health, we normally see or talk about access to healthcare, but this is not all that this right entails. When you think about it, there's so many factors outside of a healthcare setting that make it more or less likely for us to lead healthy lives. We talk, for example, about housing and food, social protection, water and sanitation, the environment around us. We talk also about discrimination based on different factors, and how that affects our education or employment. So all of those factors impact on our right to health.

Diana Copeland (27:54): So what happens when this right is not upheld? I mean, I imagine there'd be a very strong correlation between the right not being upheld and also poorer health outcomes.

Elena Ateva (28:04): When there are no conditions for us to exercise the right to health, when any of those factors that impact on our right to health are not there - housing, education, food, social security, all of it - this impacts on our right to health. And especially, when we talk about maternal and newborn health. So it's really critical that we look at the whole range of what, in our field, we call social determinants of health.

Diana Copeland (28:38): I think that makes sense. It also feels though that some of this might be out of a mother's control. It feels like it's so much larger than just the individual.

Elena Ateva (28:48): Oh, absolutely. We can't put it on to mothers to fix the system and not just the system of healthcare, but the whole world. I think there are great examples of how activists are approaching this, and it was great to hear from Naa Hammond talk about specific examples of how activists and providers and others have approached this question, so that they can make sure they're providing this wraparound support. One great example is the Elephant Circle. This is a US based organization whose name is inspired by elephants who give birth within a circle of support. And this is a great visual to show what is the type of support that women and newborns and families need throughout their entire perinatal period in order to ensure the best outcomes for them. It's great to hear examples such as this one or the work of Jennie Joseph, that Naa also mentioned, and to imagine what would scale up of such examples, such services look like? How can we reimagine the way we provide support to families who are thinking about childbirth and thinking about children even well before they actually become pregnant. So this is what's critical. And so, it's on all of us. It's not really up to women to fix this. It is on policymakers, on decision makers, advocates, on all of us to support and to create a system that really provides that support.

Diana Copeland (30:43): That's great. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Elena Ateva (30:46): Thank you, Diana. It was my pleasure

Diana Copeland (30:49): Special, thanks to Cherisse Buzzacott, Naa Hammond, the Groundswell fund and to Helen Abdul and Elvia Rosario Muñoz Martínez for sharing their stories. This episode of Brave Voices, Bold Actions was produced by Diana Copeland, Elena Ateva, Stephanie Bowen, Marissa Ware, Tariah Adams, Nisha Singh, Alma Ochoa, Nina Garcia Wright, Kendra Hanna, with support from White Ribbon Alliance Nigeria, Comite Promotor por una Maternidad Segura En Mexico, and the entire White Ribbon Alliance team. Our theme song is called Mama by Eric Wainaina and can be found on White Ribbon Alliance's Advocacy in Audio. Learn more about the Respectful Maternity Care Charter and find links to more resources at WhiteRibbonAlliance.org/bravevoicespodcast.

Episode Team: This episode produced by Diana Copeland, Elena Ateva, Stephanie Bowen, Marissa Ware, Tariah Adams, Nisha Singh, Alma Ochoa, Nina Garcia Wright, Kendra Hanna, with support from White Ribbon Alliance Nigeria, Comite Promotor por una Maternidad Segura en Mexico, and the entire White Ribbon Alliance team.


Diana Copeland

Senior Communications Officer

Diana Copeland joined White Ribbon Alliance in 2016 as the Communication Coordinator, working to strengthen and disseminate the organization’s message on its website and social media platforms, and was promoted in 2018 to Senior Communications Officer in order to oversee and grow White Ribbon Alliance’s digital and offline presence.
Rt. Hon Helen Clark

Naa Hammond

Program Officer at the Groundswell Fund

Naa Hammond is a doula-in-training, community herbalist, and Program Officer at the Groundswell Fund, where she leads the Birth Justice Fund, which is focused on eliminating pregnancy and birth outcome disparities faced by people of color through access to culturally relevant birthing options, advocacy, and support for midwives, doulas and other birthworkers of color. Naa was born and raised in Zimbabwe as the child of Ghanaian immigrants and now lives in New York City. Follow the Groundswell Fund on Twitter at @GroundswellFund to learn more.

Rt. Hon Helen Clark

Cherisse Buzzacott


Cherisse Buzzacott is an Arrernte/Arabunna woman raised in Alice Springs, Australia, a mother, and a midwife. She works clinically at the local Alice Springs Hospital in all areas of maternity care. Cherisse has had her own traumatic experiences with maternity care and is dedicated to making sure other women are supported during birth. Most recently, Cherisse was employed as the Project Officer with the Australian College of Midwives leading the Birthing on Country (BoC) Project. Currently, Cherisse is the Chair of the Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Charitable Trust, providing scholarships to student midwives and qualified midwives, furthering their professional development opportunities. Follow Cherisse on Twitter at @sistercherisse.


Elena Ateva

Advocacy Manager

Elena Ateva is the Advocacy Manager at White Ribbon Alliance and the Maternal Health lead for the USAID/Health Policy Plus Project. She is responsible for facilitating the work of the Global Respectful Maternity Care Council, leading global advocacy efforts to strengthen the midwifery workforce and providing assistance to WRA National Alliances that campaign to improve reproductive, maternal and newborn health and rights. Elena is an attorney and a human rights advocate who has been involved in the movement for respectful care in her home country, Bulgaria, and throughout Eastern Europe. Prior to joining WRA, Ateva was the Eastern Europe Legal Advocacy Coordinator for the international non-profit Human Rights in Childbirth and later served on the board of the organization. Her work has also focused on prevention of other forms of violence against women, including domestic violence and trafficking in Bulgaria and the United States.


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