Birth Is a Human Rights Issue
by Jan Tritten

[Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 119, Season 2016.]

The theme of this issue is the same as our conference in Strasbourg, France. We held our first birth rights conference in 2010 because our normal efforts didn’t seem to be effecting enough change. We thought that by taking it into the new realm of human rights, we might see greater change. We are shocked that things haven’t changed more and we feel the need to hold another conference about human rights in childbirth. We still have hope for the future. Some of this hope is based on the science about the microbiome and epigenetics that is coming forth.

It is important to realize that the health of the mother and baby are deeply dependent on what happens in pregnancy, birth and in the hours and months after birth. These are life-altering days often referred to as the childbearing year. It is known that even if a mom runs into complications and birth does not go as expected, if she is part of the decision-making process, she ends up feeling better about her birth.

We believe every mother and baby has the right to be treated with reverence and respect during the birth process, including pregnancy and beyond.

Here are some important statements from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in December of 1948:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.

  • Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
  • Article 4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
  • Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • Article 25.
    1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services …
    2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

How do you think we are doing in the world on Human Rights for mothers? Every woman has the right to an optimal birth that is the best birth possible for herself and her baby. Babies have a right to be born optimally, too.

Dr. Ágnes Geréb said: “Freedom of a country can be measured by the freedom of birth.”

Ágnes spent four months in jail in Hungary where she was mistreated. She has been under house arrest. What is her offense? She was providing homebirths for women who wanted them. This treatment of Ágnes is indeed a “barbarous act” that is being repeated against birth providers all around the world. Midwifery Today’s work is about helping the world provide optimal birth to every motherbaby, everywhere.

When we were in Fiji for a recent conference, the midwives promised to give respectful care, and a powerful nurse even apologized for the times they had been disrespectful to birthing mothers.

With participation from Midwifery Today, the Global Midwifery Council (globalmidwiferycouncil.org) was started in 2011 to address these issues. Below are some of the opening statements:

  • Birth is a Human Rights Issue.
  • Childbirth is the strong foundation upon which every healthy society grows.
  • The Global Midwifery Council is an international humanitarian organization of midwives and their supporters investigating birth and midwifery around the world.
  • The council’s goal is to ensure that safe and respectful midwifery care during childbirth is available to every woman in the world.
  • The Global Midwifery Council analyses birth conditions worldwide to help retain, establish or reestablish midwifery care.
  • The most basic human right for every woman is the right to choose her place of birth and who will attend her.
  • Mothers and babies do best in an environment conducive to the respect for the physiology of birth. Conscious, mother-centered midwifery has been shown to serve that need.
  • The Global Midwifery Council recognizes each woman’s unique spiritual, psychological and biological experience of childbirth.
  • Childbirth is the pivotal event in the life of each individual and is the cornerstone of a peaceful society.

As we send this issue out with the theme of “Birth Is a Human Rights Issue,” and as we do our conference in Strasbourg this October 19–24, 2016, my prayer is that birth becomes so positive throughout the world that we will not need to do either again.

Jan Tritten

Jan Tritten is the founder and editor-in-chief of Midwifery Today magazine and a midwife who was in active practice from 1977 to 1989. She became a midwife in 1977 after the powerful homebirth of one of her daughters. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies throughout the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world! [ PHOTO BY ANDREA NOLL ]

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