White Ribbon Alliance

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Dignity and Respect in Childbirth

August 1, 2013

Imagine walking through a hospital that is overcrowded and understaffed, and the help that you need to deliver your baby may come too late. An exhausted midwife finally makes her way to you, only to ask if your family is around, because somebody needs to pay for your delivery. You have no money, and you are told that if you don’t pay, you and your newborn will be held until you do.

Disrespectful care and abuse, particularly among rural and less educated women, was one of the key discussions at the Global Maternal Health Conference in Arusha, Tanzania. The lack of respectful maternity care deters women from coming to the hospital, and when giving birth at home, they often lack the care of a skilled health attendant, putting their lives at major risk. 

Recognizing the need to promote Respectful Maternity Care, the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and partners have developed a charter that outlines seven rights of childbearing women grounded in international human rights. When discussing the charter during the conference in Arusha, we learned that disrespect and abuse during pregnancy and childbirth is not only a problem in developing countries, but it happens in different forms around the world.

As an organization with thousands of members around the world, the White Ribbon Alliance is one of the leaders of the larger effort to educate governments on the importance that Respectful Maternity Care has in saving the lives and livelihoods of mothers everywhere. Tanzania’s President Kikwete recently stated, “It is not fair for a woman to die while giving birth, while giving life to another human being. It is not acceptable.” This is the kind of leadership we advocate for, and this is the kind of attitude that we hope that healthcare providers will adopt.

I was one of the lucky mothers – I gave birth to my sons in Tanzania and my healthcare provider treated me with dignity and respect. That one person had a profound impact on my family, and showed me that this kind of care was possible. I hope that the Global Maternal Health Conference is a new milestone towards integrating Respectful Maternity Care into healthcare systems around the world.