Dying while giving life? Maternal Mortality is a human rights issue

CESR started working on maternal mortality as a human rights issue during 2009, showing how governments can be held to account under human rights standards for failing to prioritize the issue of maternal mortality. Our work to reduce maternal mortality is closely related to our advocacy work on the Millennium Development Goals. CESR advocates for a rights-based approach in order to prevent the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women around the world every year.

In 2009 CESR reported that fewer than half of Guatemala's women are attended by midwives or other skilled health care workers whilst they give birth, which contributes to the high rate of women dying unnecessarily in childbirth. The poorest women, especially indigenous women, are most likely to die in childbirth, because of the lack of adequate, and culturally appropriate, health services in their areas and because of the high costs for families of accessing those services. Many families simply cannot afford transport to get to health clinics - and even if they can, health workers or essential medical and surgical equipment are not always available for the emergency obstetric care that would save their lives.

The costs of health care can send families into a vicious cycle of indebtedness and deepening poverty. Despite the fact that women are dying unnecessarily in childbirth, the government of Guatemala, as in many other countries, made little progress in making safe motherhood a national policy or budget priority and little progress has been made in building a health system that responds to the needs of women to protect their rights to life and to health.

The failure to prioritize women's lives has roots in underlying discrimination against women and discrimination against the poor, indigenous and minority groups. As such, maternal mortality is an issue of gender justice, as well as social and economic justice. It is also about the human rights of women, not only the rights to life and to health, but about failures to meet the full range of economic and social rights that contributes to the underlying poverty and deprivation that results in maternal mortality.

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