Maternal Health Key To Empowering Women

By Amnesty’s Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

Next week, we’ll be concluding our Mother’s Day blog series by looking at the international dimensions of maternal mortality.  Today we’d like to focus on maternal health as a key to empowering women worldwide.

Globally, motherless children are 10 times more likely to die within two years of their mothers’ death.  A mother’s health and nutrition, what care and assistance she received during her pregnancy and delivery determined whether she and you are alive today, and whether you are battling with developmental problems, birth defects, or illnesses, including perinatal HIV.

Every 90 seconds a woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications. This is 1,000 women, or more than 2 filled-to-capacity jumbo jets crashing daily.  Amnesty International considers this a human rights scandal, not only because almost all of these deaths are preventable, but because they are the culmination of abuses and discrimination against women, from insufficient access to basic healthcare, lack of comprehensive family planning and reproductive healthcare services, early marriages, gender-based violence, to inadequate redress.

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This World Health Day, Shine a Light on Maternal Health

Pregnant women at a maternity waiting house in northern Sierra Leone, where they can stay fom the ninth month of pregnancy until their babies are delivered.

Today is World Health Day – and you can celebrate by shining a light on maternal health!

World Health Day marks the anniversary of the founding, in 1948, of the World Health Organization, whose constitution – signed by all 193 Members of the United Nations — states that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

Preventable deaths in pregnancy and childbirth are violations of the right to health, and the right to freedom from discrimination due to gender, race, ethnicity, immigration status, or income level. Maternal mortality is not just a public health emergency – it is a human rights crisis.

Every 90 seconds, another woman dies from complications of pregnancy and childbirth – that’s 1,000 women every day, more than 350,000 each year. The vast majority of these deaths could be prevented, and ninety-nine percent happen in the developing world — the greatest disparity between developed and developing countries of any global health issue.

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Amnesty Activists Raise Their Voices on the MDGs

This week, leaders from around the globe met at the United Nations to review the world’s progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While there’s been some improvement, it’s been uneven. The world won’t win the fight against poverty until it puts human rights at the heart of the struggle. In the last several weeks, tens of thousands of Amnesty International activists have raised their voices in support of that message.

Last Thursday, in advance of the MDGs summit, Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty delivered more than 20,000 signatures and postcards from around the world to Joseph Deiss, the incoming president of the U.N. General Assembly and co-chair of the meeting.

Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty (R) delivers petitions and postcards to incoming U.N. General Assembly President Joseph Deiss (L)

Today, as the General Assembly begins the work of its annual session, including implementing the outcomes of the summit, Amnesty International activists sent a second batch of more than 20,000 signatures and postcards to Mr. Deiss — bringing the total to more than 46,000 names.

Amnesty activists mail petitions and postcards to U.N. General Assembly President Joseph Deiss

There are only five years left until 2015, the deadline for meeting the Goals. And the debate about what anti-poverty framework should replace the MDGs after 2015 — that is, what “MDGs 2.0″ should look like — is already well underway. As supporters of human rights, this is a critical moment for us to insist that principles like anti-discrimination, participation and accountability be at the core of the global fight against poverty.

"The Injustice of Extreme Poverty"

Yesterday, at the United Nations summit on the Millennium Development Goals, President Obama unveiled a new U.S. approach to global development. It was encouraging to see the president frame poverty as an issue of rights and justice: “In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, [the international community] recognized the inherent dignity and rights of every individual, including the right to a decent standard of living. And a decade ago, at the dawn of a new millennium, we set concrete goals to free our fellow men, women and children from the injustice of extreme poverty.”

Amnesty International – along with Realizing Rights and other organizations – has been working to put human rights at the heart of the fight against global poverty. For the president to make good on his message about human rights and development, here are some key steps for him to take:

  • Fight discrimination. The president said the U.S. will “invest in the health, education and rights of women,” and gender equality is of course crucial. But other disadvantaged groups – including racial and ethnic minorities and Indigenous Peoples – must also be prioritized.
  • Ensure participation. People living in poverty must be the chief agents of change. It’s encouraging to hear the president say that, at the nation-to-nation level, the U.S. will stress “partnering with [developing] countries” in the development process rather than “dictat[ing]” from Washington. It should also create space for each country to ensure the participation of impoverished communities.
  • Improve accountability. President Obama has called mutual accountability a “pillar of [America’s] new approach” towards development. That should include accountability to human rights standards in development.
  • Respect, protect and fulfill human rights. Finally, and most importantly, the U.S. must ensure that all efforts to achieve the MDGs are consistent with human rights standards and respect the broad spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

There’s much to be hopeful about in the president’s speech. As his administration implements its new development policy, Amnesty International will continue to push for human rights standards in U.S. development policy and the MDGs.

It's here – UN Women!

Today the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution creating a new entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, otherwise known as UN Women. Amnesty has been campaigning for a stronger UN agency for women’s issues for some years and today our goal became a reality. On June 17th, 2010 Amnesty joined a delegation representing the GEAR Campaign, a global network of over 300 organizations, to deliver 34,555 signatures from 165 countries to the President of the UN General Assembly urging him to prioritize the establishment of a new UN agency for women (over 4,000 of those signatures were collected by AIUSA – so a big shout out to all of you activists who signed the petition!).  Your action made a difference and today, UN Women was established.

Amnesty International joined the GEAR campaign delegation that delivered the petition to the President of the UN General Assembly.

There are currently four seperate agencies in the UN dealing with women’s issues: the Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), and the Office of the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women (OSAGI).  UN Women will consolidate all of these bodies into one, a change that women’s and civil society organizations around the globe have been striving for since 2006 . We are very hopeful that the new body will necessarily strengthen the UN’s work on women’s issues, and more effectively support the rest of the UN system and governments to better protect and promote women’s human rights.

Furthermore, governments can take advantage of UN Women in implementing their women’s human rights obligations.  For example, the new body could help to integrate human rights into government implementation of all UN Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), including MDG 3 on gender equality and MDG 5 on maternal health.

The GEAR campaign will continue advocating in support of UN Women, to make sure that an experienced leader, who is committed to women’s human rights is appointed.  The Secretary-General is now considering candidates.  It is our role to keep up the pressure and make sure that gender equality and the empowerment of women remains a top priority for the UN.