Antenatal care, more and better supported midwives, and respectful and dignified care were among Mexican women’s top campaign requests. Their demands came into sharp focus at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Mexico converted several large public hospitals into treatment facilities for COVID-19 patients, leaving thousands of pregnant women desperate for services. As the virus spread, many women stopped seeking prenatal care and delivering in hospitals and instead turned in droves to midwives to support home birth.
What Women Want advocates knew women’s demands could change the picture—and the system—for better. They prompted the Federal Government to issue a policy statement to all states in Mexico guaranteeing access to sexual and reproductive health services in the COVID-19 emergency—after originally suspending services in many hospitals and facilities. They influenced the government to incorporate the Respectful Maternity Care Charter: Universal Rights of Women and Newborns into the government’s guideline on COVID-19 and pregnancy, postpartum delivery, and newborn care, which enabled pregnant women to be accompanied by a companion of choice during delivery, remain with their newborns, and provide meaningful consent for caesarian sections. They also persuaded the government to quadruple the number of midwives in its employ and issue long-term contracts to midwives to signal their importance, provide them security, and offer service continuity over the course of the pandemic.
These changes brought much needed stability and essential services to pregnant and postpartum women during an otherwise chaotic and frightening time – with women’s voices largely to thank.