Why are birth issues human rights issues?

I’ve been asked this question several times lately by family, friends and the media. I’m surprised how many people are reluctant to think of birth rights as human rights.

“Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”  –Hillary Clinton

It’s quite simple: women are the owners of their bodies. They posses the sole authority with regard to their bodies and this fact is no less true during the birthing process. I believe this is the baseline we all need to work from.

Okay, so let’s say that seems reasonable, why is it such a big deal? It becomes a big deal when these rights are neither recognized or upheld.

Women around the globe are suffering violations in childbirth. At first glance, certain violations may seem more obvious than others so perhaps another approach would be to ask: “what do the violations look like?” Some examples of violations in childbirth include:

  • Lack of birthing options.  Yes, lack of birthing options is a violation of human rights. Each woman has the right to bodily autonomy and to choose the circumstances of her birth. When women are restricted in making those choices (indeed, sometimes punished) a violation occurs. This can range from lack of access to midwifery to the inability to find, for instance, a care provider who supports a vaginal birth after cesarean (vbac).
  • Lack of informed consent and refusal. Women are not always given all the information needed to make an informed decision. Women are often told what they are “allowed” to do with respect to maternity care without acknowledging they have options. To read women’s stories on this topic, visit the Humanize Birth campaign: Without My Consent: A Message from Birthing Women.

This list is by no means exhaustive, the point is to recognize what these violations look like so we can speak up and make the changes needed to protect birthing/human rights!

We all have a stake in this (regardless of age or gender) and I urge you to take action to ensure that a woman’s fundamental human right is upheld during pregnancy and birth.

“The freedom of a country can be measured by the freedom of birth.” –Dr. Agnes Gereb

Sources:
Humanize Birth website posts women’s stories of how they were violated. Also their campaign on Facebook: Without My Consent: A Message from Birthing Women
Human Rights in Childbirth website lists the fundamental rights of birthing women and a page outlining what the violations look like. 
White ribbon Alliance website lists The Universal Rights of Childbearing Women and their Youtube video Break the Silence: Respectful Maternity Care
Your Birth Coach youtube video: End Violence Against Women.

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