New maternal mortality estimates released; maternal health still a feminist issue

Image via UNFPA

We deal with a lot of issues related to motherhood on the blog, and in feminism writ large: paid maternal leave, work/life balance, stay-at-home moms, single moms, mother’s day, breastfeeding. And the list goes on.

But an aspect of motherhood that is sometimes overlooked in feminist spaces is maternal death, when a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth.

When a woman dies in this manner, it can feel so tragic that it may at first seem apolitical. Who in the world would not condemn a tragedy of this nature? What is there left to say or do about such a sad situation besides cry, or mourn, or offer condolences?

But tragedy, sadness, mourning, and condolences only go so far. How many lives can we save just by feeling sad about an issue?

That’s why my experience in the global arena has led me to believe that the prevention and reduction of maternal deaths is very much a political issue, a feminist issue, and an issue of social justice. This is something that we have to keep fighting for on the world stage. This is an issue that requires us to keep drawing attention, raising resources, and advocating for policy.

This week, a new report by UNICEF, UNFPA, the WHO, and the World Bank is reporting good news: new maternal mortality estimates confirm that the number of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth is declining. Along with other indicators, this joint U.N. report validates the fact that we are making progress in saving mothers’ lives, even if progress is slower than what is called for by the Millennium Development Goals. Maternal deaths have halved in 20 years, but faster progress needed. That’s especially true when you read that in Sub Saharan Africa, 1 in 39 women will die in childbirth. In the US it is 1 in 2400. In Sweden 1 in 14100.

I know that some of us are so thoroughly bombarded with statistics like this, that it’s almost a cliche. But our cause fatigue aside, these discrepancies truly are incredible and unacceptable. This isn’t about feeling bad or just donating money. It’s about galvanizing support in the long term to sustain momentum around this issue. It’s about making the connections between how much a country values its women citizens and how healthy its women then are. That’s why maternal health is a feminist issue- because it requires us to stand up on the world stage and say that women’s lives matter, no matter what stage of their reproductive life they are in, no matter how many children they’ve had or plan on having, and no matter how much money they were born with or which country they were born in. Beyond feeling sad when things go wrong, we need to actively support women at every stage of pregnancy, childbirth and beyond, in every corner of the globe, to safely pursue the medical path that’s best for them, including access to safe abortion if they so choose. Visit the UNFPA website to learn more.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to serving as an Executive Director at Feministing, Lori is the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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