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Women’s human rights essential to reduce maternal mortality

Health professionals have important role in promoting this

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Women’s human rights need to be addressed globally in order to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity.

And healthcare professionals have an important role to play in tackling gender inequalities and domestic violence, being the only point of contact for many women. 

This is the message presented today by Professor Lesley Regan, Vice President of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (RCOG) at the joint RCOG/RANZCOG World Congress in Brisbane, Australia.

Professor Regan’s presentation ‘Why mothers die: Women’s human rights’ focuses on the impact of human rights on women’s reproductive health and the role of healthcare professionals in improving the status of women worldwide.

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. By 2009, the UN Human Rights Council had acknowledged that preventable maternal mortality was a human rights violation and health advocates started using human rights mechanisms to make Government’s honour their commitment to ensure access to services essential for reproductive health and wellbeing.

A human rights approach to women’s healthcare is essential, says Professor Regan. It not only provides valuable tools to hold Government’s legally accountable to address the preventable causes of maternal death, but also allows for the distribution of resources and medicines, such as effective contraception and misoprostol to reduce postpartum haemorrhage, a leading cause of maternal mortality globally.

However, Professor Regan notes many countries are turning a blind eye to a human rights approach and says gender inequalities and violence, including child marriage, rape and female genital mutilation, are rife.

“A critically important reason why global efforts to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity have been slow is the low value that society, political, religious, community and family leaders have placed on a woman’s life,” says Professor Regan.

“The contributions made by mothers to society is far reaching and countries that fail to protect women’s rights have the worst economic, educational, maternal and child health outcomes.

“Advocacy for women is an obligation for everyone engaged in reproductive healthcare. It is therefore crucial that all healthcare professionals understand how to embed human rights principles into every aspect of their delivery of care.”

She added: “Women should know about their rights when accessing healthcare. We need to empower them with the knowledge they need to help us protect and preserve their fundamental rights.”

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