About Maternal Mortality

The Human Rights Connection

Over 500,000 women die every year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.  These tragic and preventable deaths are the culmination of human rights violations against women and girls in many aspects of their lives and at all levels of health decision-making.  Ending these human rights violations is essential for preventing maternal death.

It is time for us to recognize preventable maternal mortality for the massive human rights problem that it is.

Failure to provide available, accessible, acceptable and quality health care, including emergency obstetric care, for women during pregnancy and childbirth is a violation of women's rights to life, health, equality and non-discrimination. Respect and protection of women's rights to information and decision-making in reproductive health, to freedom from gender-based discrimination and violence, and to participation in planning and implementing health policies are critical for making pregnancy and delivery safer for women.Human rights imperative

An effective response requires that we look beyond the delivery of quality health services and embrace the language and norms of human rights. A human rights approach to reducing maternal mortality is a powerful tool for several reasons:

  • It ensures that we can hold governments and others to account for their policies, programs, projects and pledges to reduce maternal mortality.
  • It empowers people to advocate for rights related to maternal health.
  • It offers civil society a means by which to engage in a constructive dialogue with governments around their responsibility to ensure safe pregnancy and childbirth.
  • It places women's equality and well-being at the center of governmental responses to reproductive rights and health issues.

A human rights approach to maternal health plays a critical role in legitimizing, promoting and enforcing norms, policies and programs that seek to reduce maternal mortality.
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Experience in various countries over the past decades has demonstrated that maternal mortality can be reduced significantly and sustainable when it becomes a political priority. Yet it remains a low priority in far too many countries, despite the target set by Millennium Development Goal 5.

Even though dying of an easily preventable cause is a human rights violation--as much as extrajudicial executions, torture, and arbitrary detentions are--the connection between maternal mortality and human rights has not been widely recognized. The time is ripe for an effort that confronts this unacceptable situation. The IIMMHR seeks to take on that challenge.

Learn more:

Statistics on maternal mortality >

About IIMMHR >

What should global leaders do? >