Published on The Boston Globe, by Mary Robinson and Alicia Yamin, June 4, 2009.
HUMAN RIGHTS organizations around the world are starting to demand that governments recognize preventable maternal death as a violation of women’s rights. With the United Nations Human Rights Council’s June session just around the corner, governments have a chance to prove that they value women’s lives by taking concrete action on this issue.
Many governments are already on board. In March, 85 countries called upon the council to take decisive action to contribute to the existing efforts to address maternal mortality. In this critical year leading up to the Millennium Development Goal review in 2010, the council has a historic opportunity in its June session to recognize the need to incorporate human rights into programs and policies designed to combat maternal deaths and encourage international cooperation and assistance in this area.
More than one woman dies every minute from preventable causes in childbirth, and for every woman who dies as many as 30 others are left with lifelong, debilitating complications. Moreover, when mothers die, children are at greater risk of dropping out of school, becoming malnourished, and simply not surviving. Not only is maternal mortality and morbidity a global health emergency, but it triggers and aggravates cycles of poverty that cause generations of suffering and despair …
… Fourteen years ago at the Fourth World Conference on Women, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton declared that “women’s rights are human rights.” As secretary of state, Clinton has passionately and eloquently affirmed this administration’s commitment to women’s reproductive health needs around the world, and the Obama administration has called for increased funding for global health. As a new member of the Human Rights Council, the United States has the chance to lead the way in promoting a woman’s right to go through pregnancy and childbirth in safety and, just as important, to back up that assertion with adequate funding commitments.
Mary Robinson and Alicia Yamin are advisory council members of the International Initiative on Maternal Mortality and Human Rights. (full text).