How a Checklist Promotes Human Rights in Childbirth
The International MotherBaby Childbirth Initiative
by Vicki Penwell

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of an article which appears in Midwifery Today, Issue 119, Autumn 2016. View other great articles and columns in the table of contents. To read the rest of this article, order your copy of Midwifery Today, Issue 119.]

As someone who has witnessed decades of human rights violations in my work as a midwife among the poor in Southeast Asia and Latin America, as well as in America, I know I am not alone in desperately wanting things to be different for women, especially the poor and disenfranchised who suffer the most. It has become a matter of life and death that we treat pregnant women better if we want better outcomes.

It has become a matter of life and death that we treat pregnant women better if we want better outcomes.

But long-standing attitudes detrimental to pregnant women are hard to break, especially in countries where women in general have few rights. A system of excess medicalization can be as dangerous both physically and emotionally as under-treatment and neglect in childbirth, and rules and policies as well as traditions can violate the fundamental human rights of women, babies and entire families.

This article is to give hope to all the readers who have been deeply troubled by what they have seen firsthand or been told about the situations where birth rights and human rights both seem to be negligible and where often one senses a hopelessness and despair that things will never get better for women in childbirth. In the face of such a seemingly intractable problem as human rights violations, how does a checklist make a difference?


Vicki Penwell

Vicki Penwell, CPM, is an international humanitarian aid worker, licensed midwife and midwife educator who has practiced since 1981, first in Alaska and then in Asia since 1990. Vicki and her extended family of four generations live and run a birth center in the Philippines, where they founded a nonprofit charitable organization called Mercy In Action, which trains midwives and establishes birth centers in poor countries. The Mercy In Action birth center in Olongapo, Philippines, is run by national midwives and funded by donations so that every delivery is free of charge to the woman and her family. Outcomes of more than 13,500 births have been excellent, using the International MotherBaby Childbirth Initiative (IMBCI) model of maternity care.

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