COVID-19: Toyin Saraki Urges Respect For Women’s Rights

COVID-19: Toyin Saraki Urges Respect For Women’s Rights

The Founder and President of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, Toyin Ojora Saraki has called on policymakers to respect the rights of pregnant women, during the global, regional and national responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

Saraki, who is also the Inaugural Global Goodwill Ambassador for the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) made the call after the association released a statement alerting stakeholders to threats to women’s rights.

The group had raised an alarm that the human rights of women, their babies and their midwives are being violated by the introduction, in many countries, of inappropriate protocols for management of pregnancy, birth and postnatal care in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They noted that these inappropriate protocols are not based on current reputable evidence and are harmful to the wellbeing of women and their babies.

Saraki who shared these concerns said the issues raised by ICM represented the views of over 1 million midwives and 600 country associations in more than 130 countries, that women’s rights in childbirth must be upheld during the coronavirus pandemic.

She said: “In every country and community worldwide, pregnancy and childbirth are momentous events in the lives of women and families and represent a time of intense vulnerability. The concept of safe motherhood is usually restricted to physical safety, but childbearing is also an important rite of passage, with deep personal and cultural significance for a woman and her family.

“Because motherhood is specific to women, issues of gender equity and gender violence are also at the core of maternity care. Thus, the notion of safe motherhood must be expanded beyond the prevention of morbidity or mortality to encompass respect for women’s basic human rights including respect for women’s autonomy, dignity, feelings, choices, and preferences, including the right to companionship during maternity care.

“A childbearing woman’s right to respectful maternity care focuses specifically on the inter-personal aspects of care received by women seeking maternity services. A woman’s relationship with maternity care providers and the maternity care system during pregnancy and childbirth is vitally important. Not only are these encounters the vehicle for essential and potentially lifesaving health services, but pregnant and recently pregnant women’s experiences with caregivers at this time also have the impact to empower and comfort or to inflict lasting damage and emotional trauma, adding to or detracting from women’s confidence and self-esteem. I have been disturbed and dismayed by news coverage and anecdotal reports of enforced separations of recently delivered mothers from their newborns, a cruel development with no medical justification.

” The role of midwives as guardians of women’s rights to health has been historically evidenced since physician Ignaz Semmelweis documented the effects of hand hygiene on health in the 1800s, noting that women delivered by midwives’ clean hands had higher survival outcomes than other patients in his hospital who perished, thereby announcing that hand hygiene, the same core infection prevention and control protocols being deployed to deliver the world from COVID-19 today in 2020, saving lives.

“The World Health Organisation recommendations on caring for pregnant and recently pregnant women with COVID-19 insist that to date, there is limited data on clinical presentation and perinatal outcomes after COVID-19 during pregnancy or the puerperium, and there is no evidence that pregnant women present with different signs or symptoms or are at higher risk of severe illness, and that considering asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 may be possible in pregnant or recently pregnant women, as with the general population, all women with epidemiologic history of contact should be carefully monitored.”

Saraki urged policymakers to remember that women’s memories of childbearing experiences stay with them for a lifetime and are often shared with others, thus contributing to a climate of confidence or doubt around childbearing.

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