International Day of Action For Women’s Health: Ensuring Respectful Maternity Care

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By: Kayla McGowan, Project Coordinator, Women and Health Initiative, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health


As we celebrate International Day of Action for Women’s Health on 28 May, we reflect on the physical, emotional and psychosocial dimensions of women’s health as well as the reasons to support girls’ and women’s health throughout the lifecycle. With Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 calling for an end to all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere, the elimination of all violence against women and girls and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights by 2030, now is the time to draw attention to the many elements of and impediments to women’s health and rights.

One often underrecognized and overlooked threat to women’s health and rights to respectful maternity care is obstetric violence: any violation, dehumanization, abuse or threat to a woman’s autonomy during pregnancy, childbirth or the postpartum period. Negligence of a woman’s needs or pain during delivery, forced medical intervention and verbal abuse or discrimination all constitute obstetric violence. Unfortunately, this violation of human rights occurs in both public and private health settings and has maternal health implications ranging from psychological distress to trauma or even death. Furthermore, disrespectful maternity care is a significant barrier to women seeking care in formal health facilities.

To learn more about this practice and other forms of institutional violence, read and share the infographic below. Visit the International Day of Action for Women’s Health website for more resources and infographics on women’s health and rights (available in English, Spanish and French).




How can we ensure every woman’s right to respectful maternity care?

Join the conversation on International Day of Action for Women’s Health using #May28 and #WomensHealthMatters.