All Women Deserve Respectful Maternity Care
No matter where you are, pregnancy and labor can be trying. The least women deserve is dignity through the process.
By Sheena Currie and Cole Bingham
Respectful maternity care is an integral element of comprehensive, high-quality health services. Yet many women around the world experience disrespectful, abusive, and harmful treatment throughout pregnancy and childbirth. Labor and childbirth can be complicated and painful, yet all too often, providers will ignore a woman’s questions, preferences, and distress. Physical violence — such as a provider hitting a laboring mother to quiet her — is not uncommon.
Women who lack proper nutrition and end childbirth exhausted are too often hustled out of the maternity ward. Mothers who choose to receive a postpartum IUD, a simple contraceptive provided in the 48 hours following birth, are sometimes pressured into decisions contrary to their wishes.
Respectful maternity care is not an option. It is not a luxury awarded only to women in certain geographies or demographic groups. It is a right.
All women deserve care that respects their basic dignity, privacy, and autonomy. The United Nations, World Health Organization, European Convention on Human Rights, and countries across the globe are in agreement: respectful maternity care is a basic human right. Here’s what that means.
Many of the indignities that women experience keep them from seeking the care they need. More than cost, more than distance from the health facility, fear of being mistreated keeps women at home.
These women miss out on the opportunity for skilled care at birth — one of the most important factors in the health and survival of the mother and child.
“There is a human impact when women experience that basic right of respectful maternity care — it transforms them,” said Feroza Mushtari, a Midwifery and Nursing Manager at Jhpiego, an international health non-profit. “I met a mother at a postnatal check-up recently in a remote district facility [in Afghanistan], and this was the first time she had met a midwife who had treated her with dignity. She felt for the first time in her motherhood — despite already having two children — that she had a right to be treated respectfully.
“She told me, ‘We came to the hospital and the midwife treated us so well, and I had a safe delivery. When we went back home, I discussed it with my husband and we decided to send our 12 year-old daughter to school for the first time — to become a midwife.’”
When the word midwife was first used, it meant, literally, “with woman.” Midwives, together with nurses and doctors, are on the front lines of ensuring that women receive the respectful maternity care they are entitled to. Advancing respectful, dignified care must be a priority for countries, with clear measurements and goals. Let’s make sure every woman, everywhere, can attain it.
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