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SWL-MDG 5 - International Women's Day, 8 March, 2009

Posted Date: 05/06/2009




PRESS RELEASE    (embargoed for 8 March 2009)



No Woman Should Die Giving Life


As we celebrate International Women's Day 2009

give some thought to key facts ...


  • every minute of today, somewhere in the world, a woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth
  • for every maternal death, there are at least 20 additional women who suffer serious pregnancy-related complications that can cause lifelong disabilities
  • as many as 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and 25% are unwanted, yet women who would like to delay or avoid childbearing are without access to safe and effective contraception
  • as many as one in four women is physically or sexually abused by an intimate partner during pregnancy, a significant factor contributing to maternal deaths
  • a quarter of all pregnancies end in abortion that is unsafe or induced
  • newborn health and survival are closely linked to the health of the mother before and during pregnancy, as well as during labour, childbirth, and the postpartum period


The UN Millenium Development Goals, which range from promoting gender equality and empowering women, to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and eradicating poverty, cannot be achieved, if sexual and reproductive health and rights are not addressed. Such rights embrace human rights already recognised in national laws, international human rights documents, and other consensus documents.

Maternal wellbeing means ensuring that all women receive the care they need to be safe and healthy throughout pregnancy and childbirth. Nearly all maternal deaths occur in the developing world, making maternal mortality the health statistic with the largest disparity between developed and developing countries. Women whose health is already compromised by poor nutrition and disease are more likely to die during an obstetric emergency. More than a decade of research shows that small and affordable measures can significantly reduce the health risks that women face when they become pregnant as most maternal deaths could be prevented if women had access to appropriate health care during pregnancy, childbirth, and immediately afterwards.

Socio-cultural influence

In addition to medical and hospital factors, community-based and socio-cultural attitudes and practices also influence maternal mortality. Violence against pregnant women is an ongoing human rights violation. In efforts to empower women and girls, it is crucial to work with men to educate, involve and support them to address their own sexual and reproductive health, as well as that of their partners. Just as family planning and the pill were revolutionary 50 years ago, building partnerships with men in areas such as sexuality, reproductive health, new gender roles, fatherhood, and conflict resolution is the revolution occurring in the twenty-first century. This process has its roots in the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action (ICPD), which links population and development with enabling conditions such as enhanced gender relations, reproductive choice, and health.

Reproductive technologies

Regulating reproduction is a matter of the most private choice and the most public interest.

Reproductive control in women's own hands is a matter of basic need and human rights. Women's need to control their fertility is seen as essential to health as well as to autonomy.  Moreover, there is extensive debate about reproductive technologies, often seen as a new form of medical interference with women's bodies, and the product of the male reality that buttresses male power over women.

Indeed, technological conception transfers reproductive control from women to mostly male physicians. It is physically and emotionally harmful to women, and reinforces the importance of the social construct of motherhood, which has historically been an important justification for limiting women's opportunities in the public sphere. Moreover, the increasing medicalisation of reproduction threatens women's role in procreation, and also carries with it the potential for eugenic uses. Rarely has it been emphasized that technological aspects of care are probably of minor importance when compared with the clinical skills of the individual midwives, doctor, and nurses responsible for providing care to mothers and babies.

Maternal wellbeing is recognized as a basic human right, protected by a range of international human rights treaties and laws which oblige governments to address the causes of poor maternal health through their political, health, and legal systems.

Areas for action

  • Approaching maternal wellbeing from a human-rights perspective emphasizes that women have the right to receive comprehensive reproductive health care, including family planning, education, nutrition, and basic health services
  • Ensuring women's rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, health, maternity protection, and non-discrimination would facilitate safe motherhood
  • Human-rights principles can be incorporated into programs at the clinical, facility-management, and national-policy levels
  • A human-rights approach to addressing maternal mortality also means focusing strategically on power dynamics within the health care system.


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