Making Rights Real – EngenderHealth Teams up with White Ribbon Alliance on the Respectful Maternity Care Campaign

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Written by: EngenderHealth

The following originally appeared on the White Ribbon Alliance blog. It is posted here with permission

Pregnancy and childbirth are momentous events in the lives of women and families everywhere, but also moments of intense vulnerability. A woman’s relationship with her maternity providers is vitally important during this time, particularly because of the essential lifesaving health services they can offer her. Women’s experiences with such caregivers can both empower and comfort, providing memories of childbearing that stay with them for a lifetime and are shared with other women. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that in too many instances women instead experience lasting damage and emotional trauma, and these memories too are shared with other women.

That is why EngenderHealth is partnering with the White Ribbon Alliance to promote the Respectful Maternity Care campaign. The Respectful Maternity Care campaign aims to raise awareness of the disrespectful treatment that many women experience in seeking and receiving maternity care. For advocacy purposes, the campaign has developed a charter laying out the Universal Rights of Childbearing Women. All these rights are grounded in international human rights instruments.

EngenderHealth has long advocated for the need to address clients’ rights and providers needs by promoting quality services that address sexual and reproductive rights, particularly informed and voluntary decision making. In order to make quality health care a reality, EngenderHealth has developed quality improvement approaches and tools, including COPE for Maternal Health Services (which has been used to improve health services in more than 45 countries).

Two assumptions inform the COPE process:

  • Recipients of health care services are not passive patients waiting to be seen by experts, but are autonomous health care consumers, or clients, responsible for making decisions about their own health care and who deserve – indeed, have a right to – high-quality care. They have the right to information, access to services, informed and voluntary decision-making, safe services, privacy and confidentiality, and last but not least to dignity, comfort and respect.
  • Health care staff desire to perform their duties well, but without facilitative supervision and management, information, training and development and supplies equipment and appropriate infrastructure, they cannot deliver the high-quality services to which clients are entitled.

Unless health workers and facilities provide respectful high quality services, women will be reluctant to seek skilled care, may never return for follow-up, and will not recommend such services to their friends and neighbors. This has very important implications – not only for women and their families but for health care facilities, national governments and all those engaged in efforts to improve maternal and newborn health and survival.

On the other hand, satisfied clients of high quality services often become de facto spokespeople, as they help spread the word about the excellent care they received and advise others to seek the same. This positive feedback loop can help save lives.

For more information about other tools and approaches to improve maternity care, visit: