As the world transitioned from the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era, to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) era, the conversation about women has revolutionised. Some say that trends are cyclical – the same fervour we once saw in the 1960’s as women campaigned for access to contraceptives and female bodily autonomy seems to have come back, with just enough variation to remind us that time has, in fact, passed.
There is a fervour now. The call to protest is emblazoned across the media and beyond: the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women must and will be progressed and protected. Today, girls and women are asserting their right to control their bodies and their stories. We are determined to plan our families as we prefer – including if, when, and how many children to have – to marry the person we want, and to have control over the way our lives unfold. As the President of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), I see organisations working in the gender equality space as instrumental in transforming this narrative of women as much more than the patriarchy has painted them. They are girls and women – they are autonomous and they are powerful.
They are empowered by birth, rather than diminished by it. They take education and opportunity into their hands even when both are being dangled beyond their reach. They are, and always have been, leaders. And now they are being recognised for it.
Every step towards gender equality has empowered women and their allies to push back against the stereotypes that diminish our essential womanhood.
Our femininity has become a powerful force for change and around the world, and women are harnessing this power to advocate for their sexual and reproductive health and human rights.
The midwives that make up ICM and its civil society, governmental and the private sector partners have long campaigned to promote a very simple, yet rarely-acknowledged, truth: Midwifery is a feminist health profession, and investing in it creates a positive ripple effect that benefits communities, countries and the world.
In many cultures, midwifery is dismissed because of its gendered nature: a profession staffed predominantly by women, for women. Given that we live in an era where health systems perch on the shoulders of a predominantly female workforce at every stage, until the highest tier of the hierarchy – doctors – where the gender balance inverts, midwives are the obvious healthcare professional to advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights. It is, after all, our entire vocation.
For millennia, midwives have championed women’s health and dignity in the face of patriarchy.
We promote the notion of birth as a natural physiological process – one in which women experience the sheer awesomeness and power of their essential womanhood as they bring life into the world – rather than casting the birth of their child as a depersonalising pseudo-emergency. We are realistic about the forces of nature and believe that a woman’s body should be a cause for celebration, not a site of risk.
The State of the World’s Midwifery Report of 2014, led by the United Nations Population Fund, determined that investment in midwifery yielded a sixteenfold return and could lead to the reduction of two-thirds of the world’s preventable maternal and newborn deaths. However, midwives are not yet seen as integral to conversations around supporting women fulfil their potential. ICM’s advocacy aims to dramatically change this reality and help create a world where every decision made about women’s’ health benefits from the input of the midwives who understand the diverse, multifaceted needs of women.
The leadership of midwives on this is integral to progress, and we are delighted to partner with organisations working across sectors and countries to achieve these goals.
ICM is coming to task and demonstrating her leadership, informed by evidence, on the crucial relationship between women and their midwives. This relationship is vital to protecting and promoting the human rights of all girls and women. Now is the time and together, we can and will lead the way to a brighter future.